Monday, June 6, 2011

Session 9

NetFlix 3.1/5
IMDB 6.8/10
My Rating: 7/10

Desperate for cash, asbestos remover Gordon (Peter Mullan) claims he can clean up an abandoned psychiatric hospital in a week. But by the time Gordon discovers the truth about the asylum's gruesome past, the place may cast its curse on his entire crew. The former site of untold human misery, the decaying mental ward now works its dark magic on each member of Gordon's team.

I had never heard of this before, but it came out back in 2001. It was recommended on the IMDB discussion board for Triangle as a vaguely similar, mind-bending horror film. It was a good recommendation - This was excellent. We were glued to the screen.

The story is simple. A small company of asbestos removers, in an effort to keep from going out of business, score a vastly underbid contract to do environmental clean-up of a destitute asylum in way too short an amount of time. The pressure is already on from the start, because you know there's no way they can accomplish this in one week, and they'll be bankrupt otherwise. Then, as the week progresses, tensions build as each member of the team has their own understanding of reality questioned as they work in the oppressive asylum.  The discovery of some old patient session tapes further complicates matter when we're introduced to a very unusual girl once kept as a patient, and thence to a horrifying imaginary (?) entity called Simon.

The building itself is a big star here, as menacing a presence as Hill House, and that's saying something. This was no movie set - It was a real mental health hospital, shut down in the 80's and now torn down completely. The pics below give an inkling of the size and personality of the place in the movie:

Imagine the Overlook Hotel after 15 years of sitting empty and being vandalized, water-damaged, etc, and you're there. We get a nice tour of the place during the opening, from the hydro-therapy baths to the "dangerously disturbed" wing.

What's really good about the movie is that it is NOT a jump-scare horror film. At all. It is murderously ominous in building up tension and despair and a sense of brooding fear, to the point that in the very few instances where something actually weird happens, they're creepy as hell. (It is, unfortunately, also the kind of movie that will have teens cell phoning all the way through and complaining about how "Nothing's happeniiiiiiiing". Only watch this with people who can appreciate slow tension.) For atmosphere, I put it right up there alongside one of my favorites, The Thing, and as the week progresses and the team falls apart, it recalls MacReady's powerful line, "Nobody... nobody trusts anybody now, and we're all very tired."

This is not a movie where a madman in a mask is stalking people. The characters all have their own faults and it plays out a lot like "The Haunting", with the environment zeroing in on the weakest links and prying them for all they're worth.

My only complaint with the film is that it leaves a bit too much hanging in the end for my tastes, though it has amusingly inspired reams of literate threads on IMDB over exactly what happened. It isn't as tidy as Triangle - You get served a lot of clues as to what's going on, but have to assemble the pieces yourself and it doesn't really roll around to a neat ending telling you if you're right or wrong. I don't necessarily want every "i" to be dotted, but I personally could have done with a little more explanation. Smarter people may feel differently. That's the only complaint I have, though, because otherwise this is a really excellent film, filled with skin-crawling moments.

Simon:  "I live... in the weak and the wounded."