At a large financial services firm in New York City, a man named Morris is working late when he suffers a massive heart attack and drops dead. With Morris now deceased, Lockhart, an ambitious young executive, takes his place and is sent to retrieve the company's CEO, Roland Pembroke, from an idyllic but mysterious "wellness center" at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. This retrieval is prompted once Board members receive a troubling letter from a seemingly demented Pembroke, whom they need to sign off on the merger of their company with another. Their company is covering up some unsightly business deals, which several partners hope to pin on Pembroke upon his return. With a deadline hovering over his head, Lockhart arrives at the spa and quickly suspects that the spa's miraculous treatments are not what they seem. Lockhart eventually convinces Pembroke to return to New York, but a car crash forces Lockhart to recover at the spa with a broken leg. The spa director, Dr. Volmer, recommends Lockhart try some of the spa's therapies while he recovers. The treatments result in nightmarish visions, and his sanity is tested as he finds himself diagnosed with the same curious illness that keeps all the guests there longing for the cure.
Lockhart meets a mysterious young girl named Hannah, who, like Volmer, drinks a strange fluid kept in a cobalt bottle. Around this time another patient, Victoria Watkins, tells Lockhart that the spa is built on the ruins of a castle, once owned by a baron, that was burnt down 200 years ago. The baron desired an heir of pure blood and married his sister. When the baron learned she was infertile he began performing hellish experiments on the peasants. Eventually the peasants rose up and burnt the castle down. On the night of the revolt they captured the baron's pregnant sister and cut the baby from her womb. Watkins claims the baby was tossed into the aqueduct, which despite its fragile state, ultimately survived.
Lockhart investigates his suspicions and discovers the transfusion wing of the spa is a front for macabre medical experiments where eels are filtered through human bodies to produce the "cure" Volmer and Hannah are ingesting. Lockhart is captured by Volmer, who is actually the centuries-old baron, surviving off the cure, and Lockhart is subjected to nightmarish treatments that warp his mind like Pembroke. Lockhart writes a letter to his employer saying that he intends to remain at the spa, but has a moment of clarity where he realizes his leg was never actually broken. He rips off the cast and goes in search of Hannah.
Around this time, Hannah has her first menstrual cycle and Volmer celebrates with an elaborate party. During the party, he leads Hannah to a secret room, built from the ruins of the castle, and prepares to rape her. Lockhart realizes Hannah is Volmer's daughter and he confronts Volmer in the secret room. During the ensuing fight, Volmer's face is revealed to be a mask that hides the hideously burnt baron. Lockhart sets Volmer on fire, causing the whole castle to burn. Volmer overpowers Lockhart, and is just about to feed him to carnivorous eels when Hannah kills Volmer by lodging a shovel in his head.
Lockhart and Hannah escape from the castle on a bicycle as the whole place burns to the ground. On the road, Lockhart crashes the bicycle into a car carrying his employers, who have arrived from New York to retrieve him and Pembroke. Lockhart is ordered into the car by the employers, who hope he will return to New York with them, so they can pin all corporate wrongdoings on him, but he instead chooses to run away with Hannah, while ominously grinning.
A Cure for Wellness is an American-German co-production. On October 7, 2014, it was announced that Gore Verbinski would direct the film, scripted by Justin Haythe, for New Regency Pictures. On April 8, 2015, Dane DeHaan and Mia Goth were cast in the film, with DeHaan playing an employee sent to rescue his boss from a European "wellness spa," and Goth co-starring as a patient at the facility. 20th Century Fox handles the distribution rights, while Verbinski produced the film through his Blind Wink Productions. Jason Isaacs was added to the cast on June 2, 2015, to play the villainous role of the facility's director, who has dark designs on one of his patients.
Principal photography for the film began on June 22, 2015 and took mainly place at Babelsberg Studio (co-producer) in Potsdam, Germany. Another great part of the film was shot at former royal Hohenzollern Castle, in the German municipality of Bisingen. The castle was closed to the public for filming from July 13 to July 24, 2015. Aside from Hohenzollern, parts of the film were also shot in Saxony-Anhalt and Zella-Mehlis, Germany. An abandoned hospital in Beelitz-Heilstätten, Germany, served as a location for many of the hospital interiors.
The film received funds of €8.1 million, from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), as well as €500,000 from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg.
The film premiered on December 10, 2016, at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and was theatrically released in the United States on February 17, 2017, by 20th Century Fox, after initially being slated for September 23, 2016. The New York Times reported that 20th Century Fox created a group of fake news sites as part of a viral marketing campaign for A Cure for Wellness.
As of February 23, 2017, A Cure for Wellness has grossed $6.1 million in the United States and Canada and $5.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $11.7 million, against a production budget of $40 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film opened alongside The Great Wall and Fist Fight, and was initially projected to gross $6–8 million from about 2,700 theaters in its opening weekend. However, after making just $300,000 from Thursday night previews and $1.5 million on its first day, weekend projections were lowered to $4 million. It ended up debuting to $4.2 million, finishing 10th at the box office.
A Cure for Wellness received mixed reviews from critics, with praise for its visuals, performances and ambition, but some criticism for its length, plot and structure. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 40% based on 136 reviews, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A Cure for Wellness boasts a surfeit of visual style, but it's wasted on a derivative and predictable story whose twists, turns, and frights have all been more effectively dealt before." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a score of 47 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.
Writing for TheWrap, Alonso Duralde praised the film's production design but criticized its narrative, saying: "While the movie is about people who are happy to remain removed from the world, not realizing that they are involved in something truly dreadful, many viewers will be all too willing to be head for the exits."