Inspired by its spectacular location — the crumbling Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts — this stripped-down thriller aims to be something more intelligent than films of the I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER school of antiquated stalk-and-slash conventions. But in the end there's rather less to it than meets the eye. Small-town asbestos-abatement...read more
Inspired by its spectacular location — the crumbling Danvers State Mental Hospital in Massachusetts — this stripped-down thriller aims to be something more intelligent than films of the I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER school of antiquated stalk-and-slash conventions. But in the end there's rather less to it than meets the eye. Small-town asbestos-abatement contractor Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullen) really, really needs the job of preparing the abandoned asylum on the hill for conversion into a municipal office building. He's willing to do anything, including underbid the competition and promise completion in a week, even though project manager Phil (David Caruso) estimates they need at least twice that long to do things properly. So Phil, Gordon and their three-man crew — middle-class dropout Mike (co-screenwriter Stephen Gevedon), troublemaker Hank (John Lucas) and Gordon's inexperienced nephew Jeff (Brendan Sexton III) — start the job under intense pressure, taping, stripping, bagging and doing their best to ignore the creepy vibe the place exudes. Except Mike: He remembers the scandal that helped close the place down — the lurid case of Mary Hobbes, a disturbed woman whose family was nearly destroyed by her tales of satanism, child abuse and infanticide before the awful allegations proved to be a case of false recovered-memory syndrome — and delights in sharing the tale. The others are already spooked, as much by their own personal demons as by the building's oppressive atmosphere. Gordon is overwhelmed by the demands of new fatherhood and has had a bitter fight with his wife; Jeff is afraid of the dark (Danvers State is full of dark corners); and Hank and Phil are at each other's throats because Hank stole Phil's girlfriend. Then Hank disappears — did he really decamp for Florida, or has something sinister befallen him? During the film's first half, director and co-writer Brad Anderson successfully creates a remarkably creepy atmosphere, despite the characters' lackadaisical work ethic, which is completely at odds with the high-pressure situation the script sets up. For guys up against an impossible deadline, they spend an awful lot of time sitting around having lunch, bickering with each other and rooting around in the hospital's archives. And the tapes Mike discovers and listens to obsessively, recordings of her sessions with a staff psychiatrist, are genuinely spooky. But the climactic revelation is a real disappointment, humdrum rather than chilling.
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