Horror. Worldview. Faith.

Asylum – Review

Asylum –  Review

Mar 6, 2011

reviewed by Danny
directed by David Ellis, 2008

The idea that places can have memories is a powerful one.  We often hear of acts that are so awful, so unbelievable in their evil that it is easy to imagine them leaving a permanent impression on their physical surroundings.  Some great horror films have been based on this concept;  unfortunately, Asylum isn’t one of them.

Asylum is the story of Madison, a college freshman with considerable baggage.  When she was a young child, she witnessed her delusional father kill himself while battling imaginary foes.  More recently, her older brother has killed himself—at the very college she is now going to.    Those facts alone would make for a pretty rough freshman year, but then she arrives at her “dorm.”

Apparently, business is good at Richard Miller University because they have had to remodel an old mental hospital on campus and convert it into a co-ed dorm.  Well, they converted half of it.  The rest is left as is, connected only by a single door at the end of a dorm hallway.  A note: rarely in the history of film have establishing shots and interior shots looked more disconnected than they do here.  At no point did it feel like the action of the film was actually taking place in the buildings they were showing on the outside.  As a young kid, I did a short film that used the outside of our local hospital as an establishing shot and then cut to an interior shot that was just my bedroom with no attempt to make it look like a hospital room.  I got the exact same feeling watching Asylum, which is odd considering they apparently shot the film at a real university and presumably used the actual exteriors and interiors.

Back to the plot—we soon learn that bad things happened in the dorm/hospital in the past.  The doctor who was supposed to be helping troubled teens was actually mutilated and torturing them in order to “heal” them.  His spirit (though we are assured it is not a ghost at one point) still roams the building where he can “get inside” students heads and manipulate them.

Madison quickly hooks up with a bunch of students as troubled as she is, forming a perfect little group of victims for the evil doctor.  The problems exhibited by her new dorm mates read like a list of troubled-teen cliches.  Biff’s a drug addict.  Buffy’s boyfriend used to abuse her.  Brainy is so smart he is an outcast.  Rocky used to be fat and now is addicted to fitness.  Yes, I’m making those names up.  They should work as well as the real names for characters as flat, stereotypical and uninteresting as inhabit this film.

We are soon treated to a series of “dream” sequences as the evil doctor gets inside the heads of the co-eds, causing them to face their worse fears.  For entertainment’s sake, this is a good section to play a little game.  Pick a character, consider his or her psychological problem and then guess what the dream sequence will consist of.  If you are right, give yourself a cookie.  If you are wrong, you need to watch more horror films.  The only real surprise here is just how blatantly one of the scenes rips of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

As I saw how these sequences were going, I began to hope that when we got to the jerk with an eating disorder that we would get an homage to the scene with the walking pastries from Young Sherlock Holmes.  No such luck.  Just a fat mom yelling at her fat kid to clean his plate.

There are more cliches and rip offs of better movies as the film progresses and it culminates in one of the most overused cliches in all of modern horror—the releasing of the souls of the victims when the bad guy is killed.

Asylum isn’t just bad—it is depressingly so.  This is the point in the review where I usually point out a group of viewers who would like the film.  In this case, I’ll demure.  There are simply too many better options out there to make this film even worth a rental.

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