The news for “A Cure for Wellness” has been anything but winning so far, with the mystery thriller piling up a string of mostly negative reviews heading into this weekend’s opening in theaters.
But someone was hoping that “fake news” references about the film — via a series of concocted websites and fake news stories — will give the Gore Verbinski-directed movie a boost.
Half a dozen websites have posted stories in recent days that include made-up stories — such as details of how Lady Gaga would pay tribute to Muslims in her Super Bowl halftime show and how President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met secretly at a Swiss health spa — while also making veiled references to the movie, which is being distributed by 20th Century Fox.
The unusual promotional gambit stirred criticism on social media when it was revealed by Buzzfeed.
Representatives for Regency Enterprises and Fox attempted to explain the promotion by suggesting parallel themes in the news sites and the film.
“A Cure for Wellness is a movie about a ‘fake’ cure that makes people sicker. As part of this campaign, a ‘fake’ wellness site healthandwellness.co was created and we partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news,” the two companies said in a joint statement. “As our movie’s antagonist says, ‘There is a sickness inside us. And only when we know what ails us, can we hope to find the cure.’ “
The “Health and Wellness” site that was a principal repository of the fake news shifted its focus after news accounts about the promotion. By Monday afternoon, the site redirected to a much more direct pitch for the film, headlined “Take the Cure, In Theaters February 17.” Many of the other sites were taken down as well, with the links redirecting to acureforwellness.com.
Some of the concocted stories asked readers to tweet responses that include hashtags related to the film, such as #takethecure and #cureforwellness. The stories were also surrounded by banner ads for the film, about an ambitious young businessman sent to retrieve his company’s chief executive from a mysterious “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps. He soon suspects that the spa’s miracle treatments are not as advertised.
Among the other fake stories posted as part of the promotion: An account of Trump temporarily banning some vaccinations and another piece headlined: “ ‘Trump Depression Disorder’ Classified As A Disease By The American Medical Association.”
Some of the stories were picked up by other sites and commented on my the public, who appeared to have no inkling that the stories were fictional.
The promotion created a string of other fake news sites: Sacramento Dispatch, Salt Lake City Guardian, Houston Leader, NY Morning Post, and Indianapolis Gazette. Those sites also shifted their content Monday afternoon, to a direct promotion for the film.