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Asylum, The (DVD)

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The Asylum

The Asylum UK DVD Sleeve 213x300 - Asylum, The (DVD)Starring Stephen Lang, Kelly Blatz, Brittany Curran, Brett Dier, Michael Ormsby

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Distributed by Studiocanal


Assisting the local clergy, led by Father Conway (Lang), small town teen Patrick (Blatz) is helping clean up the old, abandoned Exeter asylum and crematorium. A foreboding place with a chequered past filled with rumours of abuse and supernatural happenings, the asylum met its functional end after being gutted by a massive fire.

When his friends decide to use his access to launch a huge, off-the-hook party, Patrick and a core group of friends stay behind once the booze-laden festivities have ended and most of the revellers taken off. Enjoying their own personal after-party alongside a girl called Reign (Curran), with whom Patrick has become smitten after meeting her the night before, the gang get to talking about the horrific past of Exeter and the whispers of satanic practices.
This leads the group to try out the old ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ party trick on Patrick’s younger brother, Rory (Ormsby), which seems to be enough to get him full-on possessed by an evil spirit.

Things go from bad to worse as the search for help for Rory is made much more pressing when the building locks itself down and the evil spirit sets about body-hopping, leading to a series of gory deaths, bodily mutilations and much running and screaming.

On first examination, The Asylum feels like a complete mess. Tonally, it’s all over the place – smatterings of comedy feeling completely mismatched to Nispel’s signature dark and gritty visual style. One moment, you’re in a particularly brutal and seriously-presented horror sequence, and the next you have comedy that feels very much out of place cutting into the proceedings. That’s not to say that the comedy is overt – there’s no slapstick, for example – yet it seems curiously ‘off’.

The original title of the film, Backmask, makes reference to the alleged practice of recording satanic messages on records that could only be heard when played backwards, and the opening scene appears to indicate that this will be a central mechanism in the story – a tortured soul trapped in, and released from, a reversed record, perhaps – yet it’s actually an entirely incidental element, mentioned only in passing.

Given the name change, first to Exeter and now The Asylum, that shouldn’t objectively be an issue – but it’s indicative of what many are going to find when they step into Nispel’s first attempt at an original horror flick: it isn’t at all what you’re expecting.

There’s a deeper mystery at the heart of The Asylum, pulling a number of threads as the film moves towards a finale which, while it does manage to just about explain itself, feels miserably cack-handed and open to more questioning than it would apparently like to be. But the awkwardness of the finale casts the mind back to how well presented the preceding scenes, especially the graphic mayhem and some great gore gags, actually were… and all of a sudden something about it sparks a greater curiosity.

And it’s then that you’re able to become far more forgiving of the film when you approach it for a second play – it’s a strange one, but once you know what to expect, picking up on the dark comedy aspects becomes much easier, alongside spotting the visual clues as to where it’s all going, which very capably escape attention on the initial run.

While elements such as a character loudly crying about somehow being stabbed with a spoon, or pulling up a DIY Exorcism app on his smart phone – which the gang decide to go ahead with trying out, unsure if the app is serious or fake – tend to feel off the mark to the uninitiated, when you approach The Asylum from the right angle it actually does work. It just feels odd when paired with the aforementioned crumbling, oppressive visuals and the completely earnest performances from the cast.

Speaking of the cast, everyone does a bang-up job here – especially leading man Kelly Blatz as the likeable Patrick (though honestly, very few of these teens approach likeable status easily), Michael Ormsby as Rory (looking to all the world like a miniature Jason Mewes) and Brett Dier as Brad, whose sudden turn of faith during one scene is a really great visual gag.

In essence, if you expect a hardcore horror flick then you’re going to be very disappointed in The Asylum. It isn’t scary, but it is funny and endearingly cynical, intentionally revelling in the absurdity of it all. Despite the presentation, Nispel hasn’t made a straight-up horror film, here. He’s made a party movie – loud, gory, and for the most part nicely paced – and you’ll need to have at it from a beer ‘n’ pizza position for it to click in any way. If you can do that, you’re going to have some fun.

The film loses points for feeling confused in itself – something which is no doubt ably reflected in the multiple title changes and sense of uncertainty in its marketing. It’s a sure thing that many are going to pick this one up with the expectation of a straight-up demonic possession horror flick and walk away bemused and dissatisfied. The Asylum is a peculiar experience; a definite oddity that seems only ever a moment away from completely falling apart. But it isn’t actually a bad one.

Studiocanal brings The Asylum to UK DVD in a bare-bones package. Not even a trailer to be had.

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User Rating 2.81 (21 votes)

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