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After Dark Originals: Sanatorium
Brant Sersen's Sanatorium is a found footage horror movie set in an abandoned hospital. That may sound familiar, since there are a number of earlier films with the same setup. Sanatorium doesn't break any new ground, but is an effective representative of the genre, and has some genuine chills.
The Ghost Trackers are a TV ghost hunting outfit, and they want to do something special for their 100th episode. They pick out the Hillcrest Sanatorium, where thousands died from tuberculosis, and where Richard Howell killed three children on New Year's Eve 1955. The Ghost Trackers show up on the anniversary of those murders and dare to spend the night.
The leader of the group is Tyler (Ben Rodgers), who is married to one of the lead investigators Samantha (Kate Riley). They are joined by prank inclined investigator Mark (Don Fanelli), cameraman Cole (Justin Purnell) and tech expert Bridget (Megan Neuringer). There's a lot of inter-team tension going on, particularly between Tyler and Mark, as they want to take the show in different directions. This tension plays out in a more sinister fashion when they actually get into the building, and you can even see its beginnings when they are initially shown around the property by creepy groundskeeper Irwin (DJ Hazard).
Sanatorium takes a little while to get going, partly because a number of the setup scares are too subtle to notice. Ideally, the viewer can catch a glimpse of something from the corner of their eye, and then they share the feeling of "did I just see that" dread with the character when they notice. But at least three times, I found myself rewinding numerous times to catch what the character saw. It's a fine line to walk: you don't want the gags to be broad and obvious, but here they went a little too far the other way.
This isn't an issue after the first act, however, and once things start happening there is a very satisfying rhythm between periods of tension and sudden frights. A lot of what helps build and maintain the tension, aside from the simple craft of moviemaking, are the very strong performances. There isn't a weak link in the main cast. They all suit their personalities perfectly, hit their beats and provide convincing turns whether being a jerk, cracking wise, or screaming in terror.
I'd place Sanatorium in the middle of the pack of abandoned convalescent hospital movies. It's a solid turn, with decent scares and tension, superb effects and solid performances. Where it falls down, though, and not by much, is in not pushing the limits of the genre more. This kind of story has been done a dozen times before, and if a film wants to stand out, it has to have a significant change or twist from the norm somewhere. Sanatorium doesn't do that. But it does provide high quality entertainment in the well-worn groove it chooses to inhabit. I'll call this one Recommended.
Video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks quite good. Keep in mind that this is a found footage film, so it is shot on hand held cameras, with available light, often in darkened rooms and sometimes "ghostly" interference.
Audio is Dolby digital 5.1 channel, and sounds quite good as well. The same warnings apply here as to the video, but the soft whispers and half heard sounds important in this kind of film are well presented. No hiss or other problem can be heard, and the dialogue is always audible. English and Spanish subtitles are included, but no alternate language track.
Sanatorium walks a well-worn path, but does it gracefully and with skill. The actors are all in top form, and the story plays out naturally and with lots of tension and scares. It's nothing you haven't seen before, but is perhaps done better than you've seen it. It's definitely worth checking out.