MAY 2, 2012
Whenever a studio emails me about an upcoming release and offers a screener, I ask if it’s playing theatrically in LA, because I’d rather pay 12 bucks to see a movie in the theaters than watch some lo-res, oft-watermarked DVD for free. Alas, Asylum Blackout (formerly The Incident) IS going theatrical, but not in Los Angeles (movie capital of the world as long as it’s a big blockbuster, I guess), so I opted for the screener. Sorry, fellow movie-going advocates – I tried!
Anyway, I don’t know why IFC thought ATM deserved to have a screen booked around here instead of this. It’s not a great movie, but it’s far more entertaining on a basic level, and much less idiotic to boot. Also, ATM is a movie about folks confined in an area smaller than any theater in the world, so it almost makes more sense to watch it at home, whereas this is a siege movie in a big asylum (and scope!), which would be better represented on a 40-60 foot screen. But that’s why I write reviews instead of running distribution companies, I guess.
Much like the recent Medium Raw, we have a group of folks trapped in an asylum that shuts down all too easily for my tastes, letting the inmates take control and kill anyone that they encounter. However they don’t kill each other all that much, and the hospital is bizarrely free of doctors (just a couple of janitors and guards, plus our heroes – a trio of cooks), so the movie is mostly a series of our heroes running through corridors, trying not to be seen, or engaging in quick fights with the odd inmate or two, which usually results in someone’s head being slammed into a wall or against another object.
What I’m trying to say is that the movie is repetitive, and that is something that could have been fixed if the script had given more of an identity to a few of the inmates. I mean, take Con Air – there’s a bunch of random thug prisoners, but you got Cyrus The Virus, Diamond Dog, Garland Greene, Billy Bedlam… memorable, distinctive villains to stick out from the more general pack. Here’s were not that lucky – there’s a sneering, Bill Moseley looking guy, and a meek patient who is kind of on their side, but that’s about it. The rest are all pretty much the same, and suffering from identical violent disorders. Are there no patients who want to kill themselves now that they’re not under watch? Or drink blood because they think they’re a vampire? I mean, it might as well be a prison instead of an institute, because everyone just seems like an asshole.
Luckily they shave some of that away by taking their time getting to the blackout, by setting up that some of the patients are on edge, as are our heroes, who are working as cooks to pay bills while they try to get their music career off the ground. Seems that things aren’t going too well for them on or off stage, and tensions are flaring between the guitarist and the singer. So it’s like Some Kind Of Monster meets Alone In The Dark, I guess. But it’s interesting to see what is basically a slasher movie populated only with guys in their 30s, and I’ll take a genuine reason for fighting (the direction of the band) over the usual “so and so comes along even though everyone hates him because he slept with the Final Girl’s best friend” type crap.
So basically you have a not great movie that has JUST enough novelty to merit a viewing, and then the last 5 minutes begin, which pretty much kills every ounce of goodwill it sort of earned. I won’t spoil it…because I CAN’T. I honestly can’t even begin to theorize what the ending was supposed to be suggesting, other than (swipe for inviso text!) that it might be all in his head, but there is no clear indication of that that I can see. In order for that sort of ending to fly, you gotta back it up and explain how it “works”, otherwise you’re just insulting and/or annoying the audience for no real reason. It’s one thing to have an ambiguous ending in a high-brow horror thriller that’s been keeping you on your toes throughout, but this is a slasher/torture hybrid with a bunch of seemingly stoned dudes as our heroes. Our brains have been turned off, man; don’t give us this nonsense when we’re already gathering up our trash to leave the theater (metaphorically speaking).
But otherwise, it’s what I call a blue collar horror movie – it gets the job done, no more, no less. I won’t remember much about it in a few weeks, but until the end I was never bored or annoyed by any of it. And I liked the Carpenter-esque touches – the score was very Escape From New York at times, the siege (and perhaps even the anonymity of the villains) is reminiscent of Assault On Precinct 13, and you can’t help but think of Halloween any time you combine escaped mental patients and 2.35:1 scope imagery. Likewise, the editing was refreshingly old-school – not a lot of quick cuts, no Avid Farts… being that director Alexandre Courtés has come from music videos, I was expecting something more hyperactive, but the editing (attributed to simply Baxter) was solid. Too bad he didn’t edit out the last two scenes.
What say you?