Movies

Nine Perfect Strangers Serves Up A Pitch-Black Critique Of Wellness Culture

What happens when you throw nine perfect strangers into a wellness retreat which blends meditation, dirt digging (read: grave digging), fasting and sack races, with the promise of complete physical and mental transformation at the end of the ten day course? You’ll come to realise that, as much as we all strive for it, there is no such thing as perfection and, if there was, everyone would be even more miserable than they already are. Just ask Ben (Melvin Gregg), one of the nine strangers, whose wife Jessica (Samara Weaving) has booked them into Tranquillum House as a means to reconnect as a couple.

To the others, it looks like Ben and Jessica have it all: the Lamborghini, the Instagram looks – the whole social media package. As we get to know them behind the luxurious doors of Tranquillum, however, a different image transpires. One that shows us the real Jessica, the one who has no sense of self-worth without her daily dose of virtual strangers giving her the thumbs up; the one who has cultivated a life around allowing people to see and comment on her shell, but who is as desperate as she is terrified to be truly seen on the inside. Most of all by her husband Ben, whom she fears has lost all interest in her when, in reality, he has lost all interest in his lottery-winning, purposeless millionaire existence.

Nine Perfect Strangers transports us to a California environment advertised as a place of escapism that actually serves as a battleground of cruel confrontations. Not only for the volatile cocktail of strangers and all their emotional baggage, but the darkest corners of your own mind, your broken heart and your ailing body. Nothing here is random, not even the group of people who sign up for ten days of personal hell. Masha (Nicole Kidman), the “amazing, mystical Eastern-block unicorn”, is the founder and leader of this cult-like resort, and curates these groups based on their personal and medical backgrounds.

Pilot episode ‘Random Acts of Mayhem’ offers a superficial introduction of the participants, each of whom brings their own psychological ingredients into this dangerous mix. Next to Ben and Jessica there’s the closeted prescription drug addict Tony (Bobby Cannavale) in all his bottled up shame; Napoleon (Michael Shannon), a devoted husband and father, trying not to break under the weight of his wife Heather’s (Asher Keddie) grief, and to get his daughter, Zoe (Grace van Patten) to sing in the shower again; Carmel (Regina Hall), an insecure housewife determined to find back to herself or rather, a new version thereof; Francis (Melissa McCarthy), a lonely, middle-aged, hot-flashing novelist no longer able to write herself out of her crises; and Lars (Luke Evans), a pot-stirring narcissist with ulterior motives.

You’d expect any wellness resort to ease its participants in, to give them the time to warm to one another before coaxing their individual darkness out to serve at breakfast,

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