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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Asylum
Asylum
MGM // R // July 15, 2008
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted September 10, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The only genre outside of chick flicks that's equally as tired in what it has to offer is horror. Once in a while we get something fresh to wet our appetites, but for the most part film companies seem to insist on throwing the same thing at us time and time again. Asylum is no different, as it sticks to a cliché ridden formula that holds together adequately until the actual horror comes into play. I know what you're thinking, and yeah, I know how backwards that sounds. Asylum holds on for dear life to stay together as a coherent film despite its problems, but falls apart at the seams once we're introduced to the villain. How is that even possible? You build up a villain with a sinister background and he ends up being the worst part about the film? That takes talent.

Madison has a troubled past. Her father was a lunatic that kept seeing disturbing things that just wasn't there. The only way he found to keep his illusions at bay, was to commit suicide via hollow point. Madison and her older brother watched their father plunge into madness and end it all. Later on in life, Madison's brother would begin to follow in his father's footsteps, and eventually met the same fate while he was away at college.

For a sense of closure, Madison decides to attend the same school where her brother committed suicide. Immediately she gets the creeps from the maintenance guy who warns her that the school is haunted. Later on she hits it off with a bunch of kids from freshman orientation. To celebrate their new bond as friendly acquaintances, they sit around drinking while looking up the history of their school on the internet. Turns out it used to be an Asylum that was run by a madman.

Dr. Burke treated teenagers for deep emotional trauma that would have begun during childhood. His methods relieved childhood stemmed troubles, but usually went hand in hand with death. People were tied up in barbed wire and given lobotomies. Talk about curing the disease by killing the patient! Dr. Burke took it pretty literally! It wasn't long before his patients rebelled and murdered him. His ghost is rumored to still roam the halls.

Coincidentally at the end of the hall in their dorm, there's a door that's been locked by an electronic combination key. The RA makes it a point to never go in the 'unfinished' wing as it's dangerous. A horror movie couldn't thrive (if that's even a word I should use here) if a bunch of spooked teens didn't decide to push the big red button dangling in front of their faces, so (of course) they hack their way inside using a laptop!

The doc starts offing his new 'patients' one by one. Coincidentally, each teen in this clique has a unique history of some sort of emotional abuse. Dr. Burke still feels the need to cure kids that have had issues healing emotionally, so he enters their subconscious and makes them relive those moments of pain right before he fetches some gore for the audience.

Madison has seen some weird things at the school and she's heard some voices as well, but I'm willing to wager that this film has more 'voices' than the likes of what she's heard. There wasn't a real flow going on here. One minute it feels like a hokey college flick, the next minute it's a psychological thriller, and then it's a b-movie with a boogeyman slasher villain. It's a necessary transition to go from having fun at school, to being spooked with what's to come. However, the director doesn't seem to find good enough timing when it comes to unleashing the scares, let alone deliver them consistently. Either something happens out of nowhere, or it's insultingly obvious what's going to happen around the next turn.

When we finally meet Dr. Burke, he ends up being a little too over the top. He looks like a slightly rotten corpse, and he's usually lit with a black light and has a lot of green lighting behind him. It takes away from the tone that was already established by the film. We're given something that sets the audience up for psychological disturbances in a normal setting. Dr. Burke then comes along and cheeses it up! After the kill, we're back to the original tone set by the movie until the next time a teen is murdered.

Speaking of setting up for the kills, isn't it a little too convenient that these kids hit it off so well, and all have some deep emotional issues that would draw the attention of Dr. Burke? The introduction of the problems each kid has is just sort of thrown out at the audience, hoping that they'll take it all in at face value. This tactic makes us care less about the characters than we already do. We're still getting to know them, and then we're forced to hear about their deep and darkest secrets just for the sake of moving the movie along. Once that happens, they start getting killed off. So where's the connection?

Asylum is a real mess. It had some potential. It's pretty unfortunate that everything about this film ended up being a cliché. The villain in an otherwise psychological thriller turns out to be a ghost slasher. The kids under attack are typical horror fodder. The scares are predictable and so is the script. In the end, it's hard to say Asylum did anything right.


Video

I'm not exactly sure why Fox was so concerned about people wanting to leak copies of this movie out. I'd make it a point not to show my friends this film. However, the screener disc provided cannot be given an accurate score. The 20th Century Fox logo pops up every now and again to let me know how scared they are of internet pirates, and the video is riddled with blocking and digital artifacts. I'm sure the retail release looks better than this, as Fox usually does a great job at their home video transfers.

MGM's name is on this product as well, so they may want to talk to Fox about their screener policy for straight to DVD horror. I'd imagine they'd want to give me something good to say about this release, right?


Audio

The English track is in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and sounds very good. The film itself doesn't make use of your rear channels often, but it does utilize them effectively for the scares as well as the score. Everything sounded clean. No hissing, no popping, and no clipping. The dynamic range was actually pretty impressive for a home video release as well. I can't be positive if this is the final track that was provided for the retail release, but I'd assume it's an accurate representation of what you can expect. I guess they gave me something good to say after all!


Extras

This is a bare bones release my friends. Not much else to say about that!


Overall

It's a dirty laundry list of ineffective tricks I'm afraid. The film never has a decent flow, the characters are given their story arc too quickly for the audience to care, Dr. Burke doesn't fit well with the rest of the film, and there's little suspense to build a real scare. The only times I ever jumped were due to cheap 'boo' scares, and that's not terror.

Asylum was struggling to keep its head above water. I mean that more for this film than perhaps any other. It's always border lining between 'alright' and 'miserable'. Once Dr. Burke comes along to torture the audience by showing us how he tortures his patients, the movie drowns. There's better ways to kill some time with your home theater, so do yourself a favor and just skip it. The film doesn't have an original bone in its body, so why not watch one of the numerous other horror films that this film most likely borrowed from?
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