A team trying to clean up an old abandoned asylum find… I guess what you might expect in an old abandoned asylum?
Gordon (Peter Mullan) is the owner of a company who takes a rush job to remove all of the asbestos in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. His crew includes: Mike (Stephen Gevedon), who knows much about the building’s history; Phil (David Caruso), his second-in-command who is dealing with a breakup; Hank (Josh Lucas), a gambling addict; and Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), Gordon’s nyctophobic nephew (afraid of the dark). While in the asylum, Mike discovers a box containing a total of nine sessions of audio-recorded interviews with a former patient named Mary Hobbes (Jurian Hughes). As they start getting to work, Mike starts listening to Mary’s tapes, finding out that she had dissociative identity disorder. Soon, strange things start happening around the asylum. It turns out that some things might be more than just a trick of the mind.
The key to this movie is the atmosphere. It starts with the building itself. It’s a giant, sprawling relic of the past that clearly has a bad history, but it’s not as apparently menacing as many horror settings. It’s got a lot of light areas and white walls, but also a lot of hallways that quickly turn into underground tunnels. The open spaces being connected by tight and isolated rooms allows everything to go from “okay” to “oh no” at a moment’s notice, keeping the viewer always on guard. The fact that everywhere has signs of decay, death, and torment only serves to heighten the feeling that this is not a good place to be. But, again, it doesn’t always rely on dark corners and creepy hallways to have the threat. Sometimes, a room filled with an almost eerie light can provide the grounds for the feelings of dread that permeate the film. Also, it was an actual abandoned asylum, so there’s an extra level of authenticity to the creepiness.
The other key to the atmosphere is how well these characters come off as authentic. They all have their own reasons for taking this job and they all are desperate to get out of their current situations. Their interactions show a closeness and a joviality. That makes it even more disturbing when, as the film progresses, their talks start to get more and more strained and aggressive. Moreover, all of them have different reasons why they might suddenly be growing stranger. One of the best parts of the film is that you can never be sure who is being influenced by what, even when the really bad things start to happen. By having almost everyone in the film being a suspect and an unreliable narrator, you can never be certain of what is real.
The cinematography in this film, while not incredibly unique, does a great job of framing shots such that you can never quite get the full picture of what’s happening, even when there don’t appear to be any supernatural forces at work. It gets taken up a notch later when we find out that someone on the crew seems to have completely snapped, but we don’t know who and we don’t know if it’s even real. When the final revelations in the film start to snowball, the certainty comes almost as a relief even as the horror rises.
Overall, this is a great work of psychological horror. Give it a try.
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