Phil: "Good first day, guys."
Hank: "Yeah. If it keeps up like this, we'll all be dead by Monday."
2001 horror movie, directed by Brad Anderson and written by Anderson and Stephen Gevedon. Uta Briesewitz was the cinematographer, and the film was produced by John Sloss, Dorothy Aufiero, David Collins, Mark Donadio, and Michael Williams.
Gordon runs a small asbestos removal company and is under a great deal of pressure by a new baby and lower profits from his business. He employs Phil, his rock-steady partner who hates fellow employee Hank for stealing his girlfriend. Mike is a former law school student who everyone agrees is too smart to be working such a lousy job, and Jeff is Gordon's nephew, grateful to be working for his uncle.
They all get introduced to the Danvers State Mental Hospital, where they have just one week to clean up the asbestos at the site -- an almost impossible task. Gordon hears voices calling his name. Everyone gets their heads filled with stories about lobotomies and murders and madness. Hank discovers a cache of money and valuables. And Mike starts skipping out on his duties so he can listen to old reel-to-reel tapes of a psychiatrist interviewing a patient named Mary who suffers from multiple personalities, some innocent, one very, very malign. There are nine tapes, each covering a single psychiatric session with Mary and the voices in her head.
Hank disappears. And everything goes to hell.
I like this movie a lot. It's very well designed to appeal to my personal sense of what makes the scariest movies -- not a lot of gory violence, no monsters jumping out of closets, just a lot of creepy, creepy stuff.
The introductory premise alone is enough to get many viewers squirming -- asbestos can cause cancer and other serious conditions with the right exposures, but in popular culture, the risk is even higher and more dire. Just imagining working around such a dangerous mineral, always looking for a way to worm its way into your lungs to wreak havoc, can be enough to make many audience members nervous.
All the actors do a great job -- nothing really spectacular, just good work by good actors. Even Caruso does a fine job -- his eccentric performances in "CSI: Miami" are nowhere in evidence. But the star of the film is, without a doubt, the Danvers Hospital itself. In the years since its closure, the facility has remained beautiful and stately (but also ominously threatening) on the outside but become almost unspeakably decayed and claustrophobic on the inside -- as pure a metaphor for madness as can be described. The building is a maze of peeling paint, cracked windows, and dark, shadowy corridors. Little work was needed to make the sets scarier -- real-life age, neglect, decay, and dust had done the hard work for the set designers.
There are shocks and scares here, but they're not the ones that come screaming down the hallways, scraping talons on the walls and slinging viscera over the landscape. These are quiet, whispering, intimate fears. They hide just on the other side of your own worries and quirks and distrusts and paranoias. Gordon, Phil, Mike, Hank, and Jeff have the same weaknesses we have, and any of us could share their fates.
"And where do you live, Simon?"
"I live in the weak and the wounded, Doc."