I had never heard of this movie before I saw it on a list, while looking for ideas of things to watch. A woman involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility sounded like a good premise for a horror movie. The same list mentioned it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, so that seemed like a big plus.
I’m thinking from now on I may disregard the critics ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and just report the audience scores. The “professionals” gave the movie an 80%, the regular folks like me a more reasonable 58.
“So what’s your problem with the movie THIS time Jason?” you ask. Simply put, it feels like one big missed opportunity. The movie is very rarely scary while you’re watching it, and is much more disturbing when you take time to think about the themes of abuse of power, the justice systems inability to protect someone from a stalker until it’s too late, or the fear of being locked up and unable to convince anyone you don’t belong there.
Nothing in this movie is a bad idea. Here’s what the synopsis blurb says
A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?
That sounds pretty good right? I mean a tense psychological drama where you’re constantly trying to guess if something is real, or is it in her head? Is she sane, or does she really belong in this facility? That’s a great idea for a scary movie. But that’s not really what we get. The answer is given only forty minutes in, and it’s done in a way that completely shattered my suspension of disbelief, and it is very rarely scary or suspenseful.
So here I’m going to do something different, I’m going to say, if you want to see a “horror” movie, staring an Emmy and Golden Globe award winning actress, directed by an Academy Award winner and written by the guys responsible for… Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector?… uh, if this sounds good to you, give it a watch and stop reading. What follows is my spoiler filled attempt at describing how I would have suggested changes to the film.
No, I have never made a movie, or written a screenplay. Yes, it is incredibly egotistical to think I can do better. Honestly, when it comes to making a movie, I can’t, I don’t know the first thing about filming, but I do know what has worked for me and what hasn’t in stories I’ve seen and read before.
Let’s with Sawyers being tricked into signing papers that have her committed against her will. That’s a pretty frightening thought, but here’s something even scarier. Being convinced by the doctor that committing yourself is the right thing to do, and signing the papers knowing what you are doing, but then, afterwards, you start to wonder if you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life. This actually happened to someone I know. True story. They went to a new psychiatrist to get a renewal for their prescriptions. This Dr. worked at the local hospital and by the end of their conversation had convinced them that staying the night in the locked ward was the right course of action. It was only one night, but I was told it was one of the worst nights they had ever experienced.
For me personally, the idea of voluntarily giving up my autonomy and then realizing I had made a horrible mistake because I might not get it back, is far more frighting, and realistic, a possibility than a profit driven clinic tricking people into committing themselves so that they could bill insurance companies for short term hospital stays. As much as corporate greed makes a nice villain, lets remember how much insurance companies HATE paying out, and that finding ways to DENY coverage of treatment is more their style.
The next issue is her stalker. I mean, he kills and replaces a guy who just happens to be starting work there the very next day? How could some random dude staking out the place, because his stalking victim went in and never came back out, know who was a regular employee and who was there for his first day. It seemed more like that part got shoehorned in because someone said to the writers “Uh, how does he get a job there, like he just shows up with a fake ID, asks, ‘Got any job openings?’ and the admin is like, ‘Yeah, sure, can you start right now? Here’s the keys to where we keep all the narcotics’ oh, yeah, that doesn’t make sense. Okay, he just kills an employee and takes their place.”
They also don’t really do much in the way of suspense. Within only ten minutes of her meeting him in the hospital for the first time, he confirms to her and us that she’s not crazy, it is him, and oh yeah he’s just as mental as ever. What happened to the part of the movies description that read “but is it real or a product of her delusion?” They completely throw that away at the forty minute mark.
You know what does make more sense, and also increases the suspense and psychological tension? You make the patients stay a week. It starts off uncomfortably, but she’s making progress, she starts to feel better and as the week progresses, this stay is helping. But maybe she thinks she see’s the stalker a few times through the window, or when outdoors, yet there’s nobody there when she points him out to someone else. It’s okay though, the week is almost up and she can go home soon… until, she sees the new janitor (who replaced the unreliable guy who suddenly stopped showing up to work, and is a godsend because they were desperate for someone) at the end of the hall and she completely loses her shit because she is convinced it is her stalker. Don’t confirm it to us, just have her freak out and wind up extending her stay. Then you start to torment her with creepy instances that push her buttons more and more, yet still keeping the viewer in the dark as to whether or not he really is the bad guy, or if she imagining it all. I wouldn’t confirm her sanity and his villainy until there was only about twenty minutes left in the movie, and it would explain all the people who have been slowly disappearing throughout the story.
That’s the movie I would have preferred. Maybe I should go re-watch Gothika.