By now you’ve probably seen the trailer for A Cure for Wellness, a movie that could easily turn out to be the most bizarre of 2017. It’s a far cry from the usual spiel for director Gore Verbinski, who’s usually seen stomping the grounds of Disney, directing the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2007) and The Lone Ranger (2013). But while it’s an unusual choice for Verbinski, it’s not quite so unexpected for Dane DeHaan.
DeHaan has made a career out of playing weird and wonderful characters. At best, they’re slightly disturbed; at worst, completely deranged. But despite this, they’re all utterly compelling. Can this purely be attributed to DeHaan’s skill and inherent charisma? Almost definitely – when DeHaan throws an on-screen strop, every actor pales into insignificance by his side, and it’s almost impossible to look away. Let’s face it, you only have to watch Chronicle to see that.
Making his film debut in the 2010 American-Filipino drama film Amigo, DeHaan quickly worked his way to bigger, better things, officially rising to prominence with his performance in Chronicle in 2012. It’s not difficult to see why.
Working with a tiny budget of just $12 million, an ongoing theme that would define DeHaan’s career, Chronicle used the found-footage format to put a new spin on the superhuman origin story. Considering the film’s extravagant premise of three teenagers developing telekinetic powers, its sheer quality on such a small budget is astounding. And DeHaan is utterly compelling in the role. Both terrifying and vulnerable, the actor’s portrayal of Andrew Detmer swings from disturbing to utterly heartbreaking in mere moments – it’s not surprising that this was the film, and the year, that completely made DeHaan’s career.
In the same year, DeHaan would appear in a series of low-budget dramas – but this time they wouldn’t be lacking the big names. First there was Lawless, featuring none other than Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman. Not too bad for DeHaan, who had only a year before been the definition of obscurity. As the character of Cricket, DeHaan shows the world another facet of his repertoire – rather than the slightly disturbed characters we were used to up to this point, we’re suddenly faced with his wide-eyed vulnerability. And it is mighty endearing, so much so that you can’t help but shed a tear at his departure from this mortal coil. A far cry from his utterly terrifying and unhinged performance in Chronicle.
But perhaps more significantly than Lawless, this was the year that the actor made The Place Beyond the Pines, the unexpected critically-acclaimed hit from director Derek Cianfrance, whose only previous work of note had been Blue Valentine two years before. Yet another low-budget ($15 million) drama, DeHaan portrays Jason Kancam, the misfit son of a stunt-motorcyclist. His father (played by a bleach blond Ryan Gosling) was murdered by a cop during an attempted robbery and DeHaan is haunted by that past, nailing the awkward, slightly depressive mannerisms, which contrasted perfectly with Emory Cohen’s ‘bad-boy’ style.
And yet, the very next year, what does he opt for? None other than Kill Your Darlings (2013), another low-budget labour-of-love starring Daniel Radcliffe and DeHaan as Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, respectively. Does anyone else see a pattern emerging here?
Shot over just 24 short days, Darlings depicts the early evolution of the Beat Generation. And like any story based upon that cult movement, Kill Your Darlings is arguably only catering to a very small audience. Once again DeHaan faded away from the limelight. It’s a decent film, but in a niche where the likes of Howl (2010), On The Road (2012) and Naked Lunch (1991) have failed to make an impact, its modest performance is unsurprising. Beat Generation content can be difficult to follow due to its inherent lack of formal structure and unreliable narration, meaning you have to peer pretty hard to see and understand the picture that’s forming. But rest assured, it is there.
And with the arguable failure of Darlings, DeHaan comes to a fork in the road. Will he continue down his path of obscurity, or would he attempt to reach a wider audience? Like any actor, he opted for the latter, starring in two commercially promising films, both likely to appeal to the masses. It’s a real shame they didn’t. First came Life After Beth, a zombie-comedy starring Aubrey Plaza that was doomed to failure. The Zom-Com has been done fantastically on multiple occasions – Shaun of the Dead (2004), Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies (2016) – but unfortunately, it’s rare for the Rom-Zom-Com to win any real credibility. Beth is no different, offering no real Rom, no real Com and leaving only Zom.
His other grab for the next rung on the career ladder was Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, with DeHaan playing the rebooted version of Harry Osborn/Green Goblin. Now, how could this possibly fail? With relative ease, apparently – and this isn’t down to DeHaan’s performance, which, despite the limited material he had to work with, was strong. No, this was all down to the fact that this particular reboot was ill-fated from the start. Every actor needs a superhero on their CV, it’s just a shame that DeHaan was lumped with one of the very few failures of the past few years.
Perhaps it was these flops that drew DeHaan to the role of James Dean in Life (2015), a biographical depiction of the young, tragic actor in the months before he hits the big time. Unfortunately, although DeHaan may have been back in his comfort zone, it didn’t prevent the savage reviews. The issue was less with his depiction of James Dean, and more with the audacity of depicting Dean whatsoever – an actor whose tragic death has left him with a mysterious hero-status, which is regrettably unravelled by Life’s tell-all.
Whilst Life may not have been a great call, DeHaan is well and truly back where he should be, rolling out a series of what should be quirky and unusual low-budget dramas. Two Lovers and a Bear, with a small budget of just $8.2 million, was a limited release in 2016, and will soon be making its way across the pond. Aside from this, we have the release of The Cure for Wellness to look forward to on February 24th, which, if the trailer is anything to go by, will be utterly weird and riveting. It’s all uphill from here, Mr DeHaan. But maybe stay away from Marvel, okay?