Notable Cast: Rupert Evans, Richard Brake, Dave Legeno, Kenny Doughty, Anna Skellern, Joseph Kennedy, Marcus Garvey
Review: Generating proper scares is a funny concept. Horror movies often try to build the gnarliest creature from scratch in hopes of rattling us to our core, including as many sharp teeth, horns, weapons, and scars as creatively possible. Leatherface, Freddy, Michael, Jason, Chucky, and etcetera were all created to play off of our fears in some way or another. Asylum Blackout does none of that, yet finds terror right in our own world. Realistic terror fathomable in everyday life, not conjured by imagination. Now that, that right there is what chills me to the core. Being locked in an asylum for the criminally insane without any electricity or technology? Yeah, I’d be horrified to find myself in that position. To me Courtés’ film suffers from a crisis of identity though, as Asylum Blackout bounces around from psychological thriller to campy horror to brutal French gorefest. All that misidentification, and Courtés then tries to baffle us with a curveball ending. That aspect I will deal with later, as I wish my own freak power outage (minus the enraged patients) stopped the film about 5 minutes before Asylum Blackout‘s big finale. Seems like writer S. Craig Zahler bit off more than he could chew with his “cooks caught in controversy” script, getting too involved with the potatoes instead of the meat. Accentuate the main course Alexandre Courtés and S. Craig Zahler, because the quality of complimentary material will be forgotten instantly.
Stuck working in the kitchen of an outdated mental institution, George (Evans) supports his dream of rock stardom by making a minuscule wage serving meals to the mentally deranged. After convincing his bandmates to make a few bucks with him, the situation goes horribly awry. During a brutal storm the power goes out across the whole institution, letting free hundreds of unstable inhabitants to roam the asylum with full freedom. The patients outnumber the guards to a massive degree and take control, leaving George and his fellow cooks to fend for themselves. Unpredictable danger lurks around every dimly lit corner, as our group navigates through the dark in hopes help will offer some relief. Unfortunately, the patients seem to have other plans for the survivors, carrying out a feeble plan unbeknownst to anyone else. A fight for their lives, but will this blackout prevent our character’s own lights from ever flicking back on?
Everyone has to wear uniforms except the Nirvana wanna-bes?
Asylum Blackout‘s concept drew me in like a moth to light, intrigued how Zahler would characterize the patients. Films tend to paint such characters as either hidden geniuses much smarter than they’re treated, or complete mental cases worthy of their lockup. For me, I love seeing the patients for how blatantly out of touch with reality they are because of how terrifying that makes the situation. In terms of horror, even the most menacing killer can be talked to and reasoned with via conversation. There is still that cognitive ability present in the character who can rationalize and reason, given most times a slasher killer ignores these basic instincts. For this reason, having a slew of people in the form of obstacles who aren’t capable of controlling their actions seems especially horrific. At least you know when you see Jason Vorhees walking towards you, chances are you’re machete f*cked. In Asylum Blackout, George sees patients that are both threats and harmless roaming about. But how are you supposed to differentiate danger from the guy running around naked to the guy sitting quietly in the corner ready to slit your throat? That to me is exactly where the terror lies, in the realm of “not knowing.” How do you defend against a foe who can’t even predict their own next move? At any single point even a “friendly” patient could suffer a moment of clouded judgement, lashing out with violent brutality. Such a scenario not only creates complications for George’s crew, but moral quandaries as well while you try to rationalize hurting another living being who doesn’t have the power to process what they are doing is wrong. That brain tickling view brought Asylum Blackout to another level in terms of conceptual horror, yet story wise we never quite emerge from the dark.
Asylum Blackout derails in the final minutes, after building a somewhat gripping climax with tons of noteworthy gore. Sure, there are bumps along the road, but nothing as horrendous as Zahler’s head scratching conclusion. While understandable, rapid delivery and choppy pacing of the final reveal completely miss the thrilling psychological aspect trying to be achieved. Courtés gets lost in the complexity and too enamored with trying to blind his viewers using brilliance. Instead, what should have been a fairly straight forward ending with a nod deserving twist becomes a mess of trying too hard and doing too much, none of which translates into conscious cinema. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t let any details slip, but be warned frustration will triumph in the last minutes. Simple horror isn’t something to avoid and not every film needs to poke around our cranium, Asylum Blackout being one of those films that would have held out on its own being just a movie about some trapped chefs. Nothing more, nothing less.
Keeping with the cooking metaphors, think of Asylum Blackout as a steak dinner. Something so simple to make and always pleases. Now, you can toy around with different rubs and herbs to enhance the steak’s flavor, but sometimes the extra ingredients kill the indented end result. Apricot flavored barbecue sauce? Ew. Sure, you power through as the steak is still delicious, but the addition of unwanted flavors leaves a bitter aftertaste and hampers the steak’s true substance. Asylum Blackout is the steak, and Zahler’s ending is the Apricot barbecue sauce. Some kick-ass gore and funnier out-of-place moments make the film a fun watch along with a raw, paranoid atmosphere, so not all is lost in the final debacle. But if you’re looking for a hidden gem, Asylum Blackout ambitiously falls into the mundane classification of “passable.”
Final Rating: 6.5 psychotic patients out of 10
And the award for Most Outdated Headphones goes to….