If you’re going to set your horror/thriller in a single building you can do far worse than an insane asylum. The inmates add an automatic degree of creepiness and uncertainty to the proceedings that most other locations can’t match. From Asylum to Shutter Island, from Alone In the Dark to Patch Adams, these are inherently frightening movies made scarier by the wackos roaming the halls.
Which brings us to The Incident. But since that title apparently didn’t catch on after its TIFF premiere it’s been renamed to the very literal (yet nonsensical) Asylum Blackout.
A trio of friends trying to make it as a band earn their living as cooks at a remote asylum for the criminally insane. They cook and serve meals from beyond a large and secure plexiglass window, but when the power goes out one night the institution’s electronic locks and security system all fail releasing the inmates from their cells. The cooks and a handful of guards are quickly trapped within the bowels of the windowless nuthouse as all hell breaks loose around them.
Eight or so on-screen deaths with a handful more handled off-screen.
Lots of punches are thrown, an eyeball gets tasered, a guard loses his head, people are stabbed, a guy gets his nose bitten off, and one poor sap is held on a gas stove with his face pressed to one of the open-flamed burners. So that doesn’t end well.
This is not a sexy movie, but we do get some fantastic cleavage courtesy of Anna Skellern lounging on a bed and a naked guy running through the halls.
McDonald’s is always hiring, so there’s really no need to ever take a job in an insane asylum.
It’s 1989 and grunge is the music of the moment. George (Rupert Evans), Max (Kenny Doughty) and Ricky (Joseph Kennedy) are a trio of musician hopefuls looking for their big break. But before that can happen they have bills to pay and stomachs to fill, so they work together as cooks at Sans Asylum in the rural outskirts of Seattle. They talk, they bicker and they serve food to the mentally deranged through a small hole in a large window.
It’s a relatively boring job if you don’t count the creepy as hell behaviors of some of the inmates. One man in particular goes out of his way to raise George’s hackles. Harry Green (Richard Brake) doesn’t speak. He only stares. Directly at George.
And then offers a hint of a smile.
When the power cuts out during dinner the experience moves from uncomfortable to unsettling. The power failure disables the security system and disengages the auto-locks, so lead guard JB (Dave Legeno) enlists the three cooks to help walk the relatively sedate cafeteria patrons back to their cells. The plan goes smoothly for a few minutes, but then two inmates rebel against an abusive guard and take his head as a trophy.
From that point forward Asylum Blackout becomes a bloody madhouse filled with tension, terror and highly inappropriate behavior as the three friends struggle to survive until outside rescue can arrive. The script by S. Craig Zahler deserves much credit for this part of the scenario as he accomplishes something truly rare for the genre. Viewers used to shaking their heads in disgust and disbelief at the stupid choices made by horror-film protagonists will find no ammunition here.
The three men stay together, immediately set out for a phone to notify police, arm themselves and then hunker down in a presumably safe spot to wait.
Director Alexandre Courtès makes his feature debut here after a career in the music video industry, and the result is a movie that more often than not looks better than low-budget genre efforts usually do. A few exterior shots aside the bulk of the film takes place inside this one building, and Courtès takes his time early on revealing the claustrophobic rooms and hallways that will soon become home to a nightmare. And while crazies are creepy in their own right, he also does a good job ratcheting up the tension through his use of Green’s silent stares. One of the film’s most effective shots involves a nurse laying wide-eyed and in shock on the hallway floor. Her disheveled look implies the atrocities that have been committed against her without ever having to show them to the viewer.
The bloody bits take a little while to arrive, but once they do there’s a fairly steady stream of violent bloodletting and practical effects mayhem.
As good as it looks though the movie does suffer from actually being too dark at times. It’s a logical conclusion due to the power outage, and the use of flashlights reveals some solidly tense scenes, but the inability to see some of the action robs it of its raw power. There’s also the issue of the film being in English but shot in Brussels, Belgium. Several of the actors have not so subtle hints of accents which makes it difficult to accept them as Nirvana wannabees.
The film’s biggest issue though, and the one that can’t be forgiven or ignored for budgetary reasons, comes in the last few minutes. Events escalate through a series of horrific assaults and murders to a suitably unnerving confrontation between George and Green, and then… well, it gets stupid. The script tries for a bit of cleverness that just doesn’t work, and instead it serves to lessen the impact of much of what came before.
Asylum Blackout is a pretty solid addition to the asylum genre and deserves to be seen by eyeballs. It’s a well made excursion into a terror-filled environment that takes time with its characters before subjecting them to terrible fates.
Asylum Blackout opens in limited theatrical release on May 4th. It will also be available on IFC Midnight Cable VOD and from other video on-demand providers.