As always, this is a review, so expect some spoilers. But I’m gonna let you know right now, I’m probably doing you a favour spoiling this movie for you.
After the movie finished and I turned off my TV, I sat in silence for a good few moments, before letting out a sad sigh. There really wasn’t any surprise to me that this film was a direct to video. I suppose in the back of my mind I had hoped it may have been one of those gems that didn’t get a wide release, or weren’t released in theatres here. Or the subject matter was enough to make the MPAA have an aneurism and all that it could do was come out on DVD. Sadly, I picked up a movie that was straight to video for the fact that it just wasn’t a good movie.
The premise of the film is very simple. A group of college students, each with a troubled past, move into the “new” dorm that just opened up on their campus. They find out it used to be an insane asylum, where a very disturbed doctor got rid of all the patients except for teenagers, and performed numerous of unethical “treatments” on them until they rebelled and killed him. They are noticing strange things happening within their dorms, and one by one they are attacked by the ghost of the evil doctor.
On paper, it doesn’t sound nearly as stupid as it actually is. But trust me, it is. I could go through scene by scene and describe each problem I had with this movie, but that really would take an extremely long time. I’ll do my best to explain why I really didn’t enjoy this film that much.
My main issue with this film were the characters. The main story follows a group of young adults, which is to be expected in a horror film – but what I really hated was the fact that every single one of these people had some disturbingly dark back story. Madison, who is the main protagonist, witnessed her mentally disturbed father kill himself when she was a child, and on top of that, she is going to the same school where her brother committed suicide the year before. Holt, the love interest, was a hardcore drug addict who blames himself for his younger brother’s death (who unfortunately drowned in a pool). Maya is the token coloured character of the film, who used to have an abusive boyfriend. String – yes his name is String – is the 16-year-old, computer genius prodigy who has a mentally abusive mother who doesn’t care about him. Ivy’s story is a strange one – at first she is very much the stereotypical slutty girl of the film, always making sexual innuendos and hitting on the guys. Then she confides that she cuts herself. And the cherry on top of her story is that her father used to sexual abuse her. Yikes. And now for my favourite (see what I did there?) of these very forced characters – Tommy. Tommy is this film’s douchebag, who tries ever so hard to be funny, but comes off as annoying, cocky, and inconsiderate. His dark back story is the strangest – his obese mother and family would force him to eat and be fat when he was younger, which is why he is always working out now… Right.
It’s not that any of these characters aren’t necessarily sympathetic ones, I feel bad for their stories. And it’s not that the actors did a bad job. It’s the fact that the characters are so contrived that it just blatantly pisses me off. It is completely unlikely that all of these people would be in the same dorm, and be part of the same group of friends, and all have really messed up backgrounds. And I would have possibly believed it, or even have forgiven this fact if it had anything to do with the plot, or there had been some reason why every character had a very disturbing history. Instead, the film just tries to make us feel bad for them when they die. But the audience can’t feel sorry for that many characters when the film keeps jumping back and forth between every character’s personal demons. The protagonist is supposed to be Madison, but the film spends so little time developing her character beyond the first five minutes of exposition that I just didn’t give a shit if she lived or died. For those of you who are interested – killing order goes: String, Maya, Tommy, Madison, Mackey. Then Dr. Burke if you count that too.
Besides those characters, there are two others I’d want to talk about. The first is Mackey, who is the dorm/school custodian. He kind of just appears out of nowhere from time to time, dropping warning lines that would normally set up a sense of eeriness in this type of film. I felt that his character was added as a way to keep the story going. I’m wondering if the writer was having a hard time trying to make this film scary, so he tried the “old man is going to warn you and you don’t listen” routine. It doesn’t work. Also, a very forced story line comes in to play where after a few of the characters start “disappearing”, they suspect it is Mackey. Why this doesn’t work is because you fucking see the doctor killing them in the previous scenes! I’m all for dramatic irony, but not when it’s added in for no discernible reason, and especially not in a horror film – where you know, you should at least have some freaking suspense. Mackey ends up saving Holt and Madison later on, and also explains that he used to be a patient at the asylum! He says, that he had stayed away for years after escaping, but made his way back here and has been working at the school ever since. I remember he said something along the lines of “I knew the doctor would return one day, so I had to stay”. I actually yelled at the movie during this scene, I yelled “WHY!?” I have never been one to understand why there tend to be these characters in films. Why would you be compelled to stay a place where you were tortured as a child? Why would you want to face the doctor that tortured you? It’s not as though Mackey has ever sought him out to destroy the spirit of the doctor himself, so why bother staying around? Why movie, why!?
The last character I want to talk about is the Doctor. Doctor Burke was played actually really decently by Mark Rolston. He’s been in quite a few recognizable movies and television shows, including what I recognized him from: The Shawshank Redemption – he plays Bogs aka the guy who rapes Tim Robbins. He’s also been in Aliens, Lethal Weapon 2, RoboCop 2, Rush Hour, Saw V and VI – as well as appearances in 24 and Babylon 5. I think Rolston did a good job in the film with what he had to work with. Dr. Burke is nothing more than a Freddy Krueger, Jason, or Michael Myers character. They are crazy and they kill people. He was mildly creepy, although within the context of the film, I didn’t find him scary. We don’t get to learn much about him as a character, we just know that he likes to torture his patients because he thinks he can “cure” them. His catchphrase of sorts is “give me your suffering!”, and I found it quite laughable. My problem with this character is that he was introduced way too soon into the film, and it really took away any suspense that could have been gained. And because of this, it ended up becoming less of a creepy ghost story and more of a really cheap slasher film.
Overall, this film was forced, and though I’ve never written a film, there are a lot of things I know I could have written better considering I’m a fan of the genre and I enjoy good story telling. The movie tried too hard to sell its scares, and while it tried to create a scary atmosphere, it instead rushed into everything like a teenage boy during his first time: it’s sloppy, it’s too fast, and it’s not memorable. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, we learn about the whole back story of the doctor. Oh, and of course the film used one of the most annoying film clichés ever: the young kid who is a computer hacking genius. What is this, Jurassic Park? Fuck! Though String was the only character I kind of liked, because he was an adorable, shy, geek, I think he should have been omitted. Why not have strange things happen throughout the beginning of the film – like the students seeing strange things, hearing things, and then decide to break into the asylum and find out the information in that creepy setting?
Oh, small rant about that: why the hell did the school just leave the asylum as it was? First, they call it a “new” dorm. The main character actually points this out, she walks into the building, that has a “newly updated” feel, and actually points this out to the audience! The film can’t even sell this stupid idea on its own damn characters! And I have nothing wrong with the idea they used an old building for it, places do that all the time. But there is a locked door that is supposedly a cat-walk in the process that connects to the school buildings. Sure that makes sense, but why on earth did they leave all the asylum equipment, furniture, and oh, of course, the FILE CABINETS on the premises? What, did the school run out of the new dorm budget to bother cleaning up that mess? Also, it’s not like the asylum had been out of operation for a few years, no, it’s been at least 15 years. Why weren’t those files taken by the police when they surely had an investigation of the facilities? Or is this film under movie laws where there is no sign of realism? Grr. Oh, speaking of realism – you never see these students going to fucking class. The film feels like it takes place within a day or two, like a weekend or something. How stupid is that? Oh, and when some of the students go missing, they are told they aren’t supposed to leave the dorm. Right, that makes sense movie. These are young adults, do you think they’re going to fucking listen? And on that matter, I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to house arrest students living on campus. Stupid. Freaking. Movie.
Asylum asked more questions than it answered, and the story telling is so sloppy that it makes my head hurt. It tries to be so many other films at once that it doesn’t leave any memorable impression. My first thought when they explained Dr. Burke’s story was House on Haunted Hill. The way he kills some of these people, by somehow forcing them into a hallucination of their traumas made me think of some strange love-child abomination of Freddy Krueger and Pin-Head – combining a weird dream state with a kind of hellish state. Why not try to make something somewhat original? If the characters needed to be a little messed up, why not play with reality – impose some ambiguity about whether the story is real or if the protagonist is really within an asylum?
Everything about this movie annoyed me. The characters were bland and contrived, the plot was rushed and not well thought out, and the atmosphere was ruined by terrible choices in the soundtrack. The film has such a blatant attempt to give off an anti-drug message that it really annoys me. I don’t think people should be using drugs, but what bothered me a lot was the part where String, the 16-year-old, criticizes Tommy for smoking pot, saying it kills brain cells. Two scenes later he shares a drink with the rest of the group. So the film is saying that underage drinking is ok but don’t smoke pot. Well, this isn’t a post about which is better or worse or what I approve of, but alcohol is a drug too – and for that matter, it too kills brain cells. So movie, stop being hypocritical and shut up already – this isn’t an after school special. I can understand fully why this film was a straight to video, no one in their right mind would want to watch it. I really have no idea what I was thinking when I rented it. I guess sometimes I can be just too forgiving and hope for the best.
In conclusion, this movie blows. And this is coming from someone who likes a lot of really supposedly bad horror films. Don’t waste your time on it. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t even “So-bad-it’s-awesome”, it was just bad. Maybe it takes more to scare me now, but I’m really thinking this movie won’t scare anyone, especially not fans of the genre.
I’m really hoping the next three films are better than this one. Although, I don’t think any of them can even suck this much.
ScareMeter: .5/5 “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is scarier than this shit”.
Overall Movie Rating: .5/5