Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon
Starring: David Caruso, Peter Mullan, Stephan Gevedon, Paul Guilfoyle, Josh Lucas, Brendon Sexton III
IMDb 6.5/10 Rotten Tomatoes 63% Metacritic 58/100
I finally got to watch this the other morning. Unfortunately, I was out of sugar so I didn’t get to have my morning coffee while I watched it. That would have been quite the excellent morning wake up for that particular day. I just happened to catch this as it started on one of the cable movie channels, Starz I think. It got my attention right away.
I have always been fascinated by abandoned places, how nature just takes over when we leave structures to her devices. These places tend to look grim, dark, eerie, even sinister at times. (At least in my opinion.) Many times it looks as if time just stood still. And sometimes, these places look like time has forgotten about the area altogether. You can find tons of images online of these places…abandoned houses with furniture still in place and clothes neatly hanging in closets, dishes on tables and detergents in cabinets, toys on the floor. There’s abandoned malls with empty display cases and clothes racks still standing, sometimes a sale sign is still visible through the snow that has fallen through the broken skylights, remnants of escalators and stairs, metal trim hanging from rails, bent chairs from the food court overturned and rusted. There’s houses full of sand out in the middle of the desert, abandoned Olympic venues like cross country running tracks, swimming pools and bobsled tracks, theme parks and tourist attractions and tons of empty parking structures related to these locations. And then there’s abandoned mental hospitals, those places the state would send a person when it was decided that they were not mentally capable of functioning in any other place and most certainly not on their own without supervision, therapy, treatment or medication of some sort.
Abandoned hospitals have always held a certain place in modern horror. It’s always been somewhat lore or urban legend that the tortured souls of the mentally ill patients that were once treated at these facilities (and possibly some staff who died while working there) remain in these structures long after any sign of life has left the premises.
In this film, we follow five guys, well…four guys and a newbie, as they remove asbestos from an abandoned asylum, Danvers State Hospital. We have Gordon (Mullan), who is the owner of the small asbestos removal company that’s been hired to do the work. He is married and is a proud new papa of a baby girl but, times are hard and money is tight. Gordon is feeling the stress both at home and at work. He really needed this gig and in order to get it, he said they could complete the job in a week instead of the two weeks (minimum) his buddy Phil (Caruso) first stated it would take to finish. While surveying the work to be done Gordon actually hears a voice coming from somewhere in the hospital but, he brushes it off and moves on. Phil is in kind of an awkward spot in life himself. He recently lost his girlfriend to his co-worker Hank (Josh Lucas) and takes his mind off of it by smoking weed in secret so no one knows. Out in the open, Phil harasses Hank every chance he gets. It’s obvious Phil has been around longer than Hank and is definitely closer to Gordon and Phil seems to use this to his advantage to get over on Hank as much as he can. Then there’s Mike. Mike is a law school dropout. He’s incredibly smart and seems to be rethinking his rebellion against the white-collar path of his father. He also seems to be questioning a lot of the decisions he’s made and where he’s ended up, almost like a mid-life crisis but, before 30. Also, Mike finds some recordings of therapy sessions that he gets very interested in but, I’ll get to that in a minute. Finally, we have Jeff. Jeff is Gordon’s nephew. He’s young, inexperienced, a newbie at…well…everything (sometimes it seems like even breathing is a new concept to this kid). I do think the kid has a brain in there somewhere because he throws out some smarts every once in a while. However, I think his brain gets jumbled and his smarts get lost and he comes off very stupid. I don’t know for sure how old he’s supposed to be but he’s late teens, early twenties. I’m gonna say nineteen. And he acts it. But then again, so does Hank, so…
Back to Mike and the recordings…
Mike knows quite a bit about the hospital. He knows about what kind of treatment practices went on at the time it was a fully functioning facility…ECT (basically electro-shock therapy), hydrotherapy, lobotomies, a number of things. Now like I said before, while they are working Mike finds some recordings of some therapy sessions of a former patient, Mary Hobbes who was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder). He finds these tapes when he goes downstairs to check a tripped breaker that made his machine stop running. He finds nine sessions to be exact, seemingly one per box and labeled per session. Initially, he starts listening to just to see what they are. But as he gets further and further into the sessions, he gets so much more involved. He starts taking notes on the case, making notes about Mary and each of her identities.
While they work this job a number of strange things happen. Tensions continue to rise and stress gets so thick and heavy you could cut it with a knife. Eventually, everything gets out of hand and people get hurt.
But, that’s all I’m going to say. Because I liked the movie a lot and I don’t want to spoil anything.
Like I said in my opening, I have always had a fascination with abandoned places. I can spend hours looking at photos online from urban explorers and professional photographers that have captured these forgotten places on film. And it IS true that mental hospitals, psych wards and such, are by far the creepiest of all the places I’ve looked at. One of the coolest things about this film is that Danvers State Hospital does actually exist and they filmed the majority of the movie there, on site. A lot of the building is said to have been unsafe for filming however, they were able to use a small area and I think that it was executed very well. They didn’t even need many props or anything because, having been a fully functioning asylum fifteen years prior to filming, there were numerous items still left behind, like the wheelchair we see in a hallway or the bathtubs in the hydrotherapy room (wicked scene, this is obviously a treatment that would have made any SANE person feel trapped, I can only imagine how someone who was perhaps deeply disturbed would have felt about it or reacted to it). Plus, I’ve seen many photos online of abandoned asylum building where there are old files on the floors or old file cabinets with papers and folders still inside them. So, to me, it’s not far out that Mike would find such things in the asylum while on this clean up job. I’d probably be more surprised if he didn’t find anything.
I thought the movie was good. I liked the actors. I think they did their parts justice. I also think that if one of those big time major production houses had picked up this film instead of these guys having to go the indie route that it would have been a much more successful venture for them. It wasn’t weird for me to see David Caruso (a lot of people recognize his character Horatio Cane from CSI: Miami) smoking weed either. I’ve seen him in another movie with Nicholas Cage called Kiss of Death (1995). Not the best movie in the world but, certainly not the worst. Anyways, Caruso is no angel in that movie. He’s no villain but, no angel either…that’s for sure. And I think the writers (one of them is the guy who plays Mike by the way) really tried to think their plot through. However, I also think they wanted something a little more mind probing and thought provoking, rather than just hand you every little thing about the movie on a silver platter. Sometimes, the writer or director (or both) like to make you think a little bit, stimulate your brain cells, make you think things through and try to apply reason and logic to a situation where such things do not exist. It’s more fun that way.
UPDATE: Here is the Danvers State Hospital website. They have some fantastic images of the hospital on here. www.danversstateinsaneasylum.com