Spreading lies to sell a movie is shockingly irresponsible, but it’s also just bizarre. But the marketers for A Cure For Wellness went further, creating sites for modern day newspapers that don’t exist: the Sacramento Dispatch, the Salt Lake City Guardian, the Houston Leader, and so on. “Utah Senator Introduces Bill to Jail, Publicly Shame Women Who Receive Abortions,” says another. Another story, about President Trump denying California federal aid for the Oroville disaster, attracted an audience of liberals ready to believe anything bad about Trump. The news sites have been taken down since Buzzfeed’s story ran, but we’ll all be hearing about the “facts” from these stories for years to come. These sorts of sites, done well, can be part of a film’s mythos (The Blair Witch Project) or even fascinating in their own right (The Beast). Thanks for ruining Thanksgiving, Hollywood. Reporters Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko uncovered a network of five fake news sites that were being used to promote the movie, leading the filmmakers to take the sites down. They’re the kind of pieces that play to people’s worst beliefs about their political opponents despite being completely made up—in other words, real fake news. A lot more probably didn’t get past the headline and were left with a piece of misinformation that confirmed their existing biases—and brought them no closer to buying a movie ticket. There’s even less reason to think that people looking for something new to hang their anger at liberals or at Trump on are going to be particularly receptive to a pitch for an unrelated horror film, if any of them even penetrate the campaign’s mysteries and realize that’s what the fake news site is about. Reportedly, they went to the pros—in a statement provided to Buzzfeed, Regency Enterprises, one of the film’s producers, said they had “partnered with a fake news creator to publish fake news.”
And the fake news worked: Buzzfeed reports that the Lady Gaga article went viral on Facebook and slightly-less-fake conservative blogs. Part of the campaign for A Cure for Wellness relies on the sorts of fake sites that have been commonplace for decades: websites for made up companies and organizations that tie back to the film. For example, HealthCureGov.com looks at first glance like Healthcare.gov—the same color scheme, similar fonts—but it’s plastered all over with branding for A Cure For Wellness, including a link to the trailer, front and center. It’s hard to imagine who’d be fooled, even before getting to the creepy disclaimer:
HeathCureGov.com is not an insurance marketplace and is not affiliated with any exchange, and is not a licensed insurance agent or broker. How did filmmakers craft such exquisitely shareable headlines? There is a sickness inside of us, rising like the bile that leaves that bitter taste at the back of our throats. A Cure for Wellness, Gore Verbinski’s upcoming thriller about a horrifying Swiss health spa, was using an even more horrifying method to advertise, Buzzfeed reports: fake news. “LEAKED: Lady Gaga Halftime Performance to Feature Muslim Tribute,” says one. A Cure for Wellness isn’t about Trump or Lady Gaga or fake news; there’s no reason to draw that connection. Maybe some people who saw those headlines clicked through, realized it was an ad, and learned about A Cure For Wellness. (Since the publication of Buzzfeed’s story, the fake news sites seem to have all been changed to redirect to the film’s main website). Some of the stories on the sites were also relatively unobjectionable: a headline reading “PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER SCREENING LEAVES SALT LAKE CITY MAN IN CATATONIC STATE” has a William Castle sort of charm to it. But the people running the ad campaign for A Cure for Wellness definitely crossed a line with the other fake stories they promoted from these sites.