Monday, July 21, 2008
When done right, haunted asylum movies work wonders at scaring the pants off me (wouldn’t you like to be around when that happens!!). Movies like Session 9 set in abandoned mental hospitals utilize creaking doors, dark corridors, archaic “treatment” implements, peeling paint, old toys and debris to create an atmosphere of loneliness and slowly building dread. Add a messed up story about patients being mistreated, tested on and killed plus a few good jolts and you’ve got yourself a successful horror film.
These films should always remember that the real villain of the story is the mental hospital itself. No matter what malevolent spirits the place holds, they are usually the by-product of its dark evil. Without a sufficiently scary location and atmosphere the whole film will fall apart.
The oh-so-cleverly titled Asylum doesn’t play by these rules and suffers all the more for it, in turn making the viewer suffer even more.
Madison (Sarah Roemer) is leaving behind a tragic family past (both her father and brother committed suicide) and going to college. Her mother must be paying a bundle, because she gets to live in a newly renovated, state-of-the-art dorm where she gets her very own room! One catch – the dorm used to be an asylum where a crazed doctor named Burke (Mark Rolston) used drastic measures (i.e. torture) to “cure” his teenage patients. One part of the dorm is still under renovation and strictly off limits, but that doesn’t stop Madison and her new dorm mates from breaking in and snooping around. The stereotypical bunch (the asshole jock, the spicy Latina, the shy computer nerd, the blonde bitch, the cute, sensitive guy and Madison) gets caught by security and they all go about their normal business…except things are getting strange. Lights flicker, people go missing and an imposing figure of a Doctor lurks in the shadows. As each person in the group ends up missing/dead as the Doctor exposes their deepest secrets, can Madison fend him off or will she too succumb to his “treatments?”
In the first 10 minutes or so Asylum actually looked promising. Madison is a damaged young thing and the exterior of the dorm/old asylum sure is imposing…but things start falling apart fast after that. First of all, the orientation Madison and the new students attend only has like 30 people total!! The incoming freshman class must be bigger than that. Even if it was only the kids who are staying in that particular dorm, that place has at least a couple of stories with at least 20 (at the barest minimum) dorm rooms on each floor! Plus, we never see any other students besides the group of bozos we are stuck with…and they never leave their particular floor. I remember being a freshman, and the last place you wanted to be was hanging out on your floor like a loser. There was so much to do that first week of school, I’m not buying that anyone would want to stick around their dorm, even if it is “state-of-the-art.” And I don’t know what college these lucky bastards attended, but I’ve never heard of one where you get your own dorm room freshman year!! Yet, here these characters are, with no roommates to worry about (or to save them) as the Doctor attacks them one by one…
Ok, that stuff was more nitpicking than anything else, so let’s get to what’s really wrong with the film. The damn thing isn’t scary…at all!! Besides having the asylum part of the building be dark and abandoned, it’s not really made to be a character or villain in the film…that distinction went to Doctor Burke, but we see far to much of him for him to actually be intimidating. He comes off hammier than anything else, which isn’t good for a horror film that’s trying to play it straight. The asylum building isn’t played up at all, though it could have been used so much more effectively than as just another dark hall for these kids to run through. The film doesn’t attempt to build any tension, suspense or scares and basically just limps along until its weak climax.
The film is ploddingly predictable and there are absolutely no surprises to be found. It was also pretty convenient that ALL the people had some big, dark secret they were hiding that ultimately Dr. Burke used to get to them. Everything felt contrived, forced and just plain bland. This is one of those films your 11-year-old kid brother/sister would rent and think it was scary…but only if it was the only horror movie they’d ever seen.
As for the characters, they are all stereotypical and shallow. They each have a big, bad secret, but besides that nothing much else is revealed about them. The worst, though, is the character of Doctor Burke, who shouts ridiculous lines like, “You’re dead meat!” and “Give me your suffering! Give me your pain!” that’ll have you snickering through your boredom. He is in no way scary and comes off as pretty damn ridiculous.
The acting, like the rest of the movie, is pretty mediocre. While it’s not overly atrocious, it’s not really all that great either. Of course, the tired script doesn’t give the actors that much to work with to begin with. The story is unoriginal, bland and a bore to anyone who’s seen at least one horror movie. Writer Ethan Lawrence doesn’t know how to write a suspenseful horror story and the same repetitious crap keeps happening in Asylum. Not to mention all the numerous plot holes populating the film. What was the point of having Madison’s dad and brother commit suicide because they “heard voices” without including something further along in the story with the same thing happening to Madison? And exactly how did a group of people with some pretty deep secrets all end up on the same floor in a haunted dorm? Why did Doctor Burke chose to target all of them? These questions and many more plague the film and are never answered.
The only thing this film had going for it were the high production values and the surprisingly sharp direction, courtesy of David R. Ellis. Still, those two things don’t make Asylum worth your time.
Consider yourself under Doctor’s orders to avoid this film!
Available from Amazon!