Better than Expected Foreign Horror : ASYLUM BLACKOUT
Aug 12, 2013 (Updated Aug 13, 2013)
Review by xxxxer
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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As the title may suggest, the kitchen staff at a Washington State mental hospital is trapped inside the locked-down building after a power outage frees all the inmates from their cells. It might also be apparent that, considering 2011's Asylum Blackout (a.k.a. The Incident) is classified as a horror movie, that the inmates aren't of the comatose variety but rather of the Hannibal Lector type, and their rampage escalates in ferocity over the course of the film. What may not be so apparent is the fact that this foreign-produced horror movie (with English dialogue) is actually substantially better than I would have expected or it even should be. The film's first half or so is almost a "slice of life" drama focusing on the weary head cook at the asylum, who's trying to get a music group together in between the day-to-day grind of preparing meals for the inmates. Once the facility's power supply is knocked out in an electrical storm, all bets are off however, and though director Alexandre Courtes's film is relatively restrained for much of its duration, the final twenty minutes or so veer straight into the recently trendy horror film territory of torture porn.
To be honest, I was shocked at how decent this film really is. Going in, I didn't know very much about the picture, and I wasn't even sure that this film would truly be classified as a horror film since it could just as easily have been more an action flick or thriller. What is clear pretty early on is that director Courtes seems to possess more talent than the usual horror film director who relies heavily on what has been previously produced. Obviously, this film has the "us against them" struggle found in such horror flicks as John Carpenter's The Thing or even Night of the Living Dead and does take place in the typical sanitarium that houses all sorts of stereotypically violent cooks, but this French-Belgian production actually does a fine job of developing its characters in the early going and relies more on tension and suspense than on gross-out horror moments - at least during its first two-thirds length. Any notion of restraint goes out the window at some point, and the film certainly unleashes some ghoulish goodies in its final quarter that will have some viewers squirming in their seats.
The setting for this film is 1989 and at first, the piece almost has seems like it's telling a true story (though I highly doubt this is the case). That it does take place in the late '80s does have an impact on how the film works, though it's hardly a game-changer for the story. Cinematographer Laurent Tangy bathes the film in shades of gray, brown and black and the look of the film is appropriately gloomy, especially when kitchen workers George (Rupert Evans), Max (Kenny Doughty), and Ricky (Joseph Kennedy) find themselves locked in the asylum as the inmates run wild. Throughout the piece, S. Craig Zahler's script ratchets up the tension little by little, and to the film's credit, it's not until the end that Asylum Blackout really goes off the deep end and seems completely bonkers. Like many foreign-produced horror films, this one also features an "WTF just happened?" twist ending, though I for one didn't think it worked very well. To me, the finale seemed ridiculous, although it would certainly get viewers talking about what they had just witnessed, which I suppose would be the point.
Although this film is better than I would have expected, it does have some drawbacks other than the somewhat illogical storyline (so... yer telling me...there’s one inmate who KNEW beforehand that the blackout would occur and coordinated that all the inmates would spit out their meds – yeah, I’ll [ahem] believe that...). First, there are some aspects of the film that seem to have been thrown in to get a rise out of the audience for brief moments then just as quickly forgotten. This is true of a "token black guy" security guard who turns up in the film reading a copy of The White Man's Oppression then is bossed around by his (white) superiors for all the rest of the time we see him. A not-so-subtle statement that, and it seems pretty dense (and not completely at home) in a film of this type. I had to chuckle when, as the characters figure out what to do midway through the film, they break off into a "we gotta get the band back together" discussion. Nevermind that there's a bunch of nutjobs running around with meat cleavers and bad intentions for the main character’s rectums ... WE GOTTA SAVE THE MUSIC! I also found it amusing that in the first ten minutes we have just the briefest bit of interaction between the main character George and his girlfriend - who is then all but forgotten in the film. This female seems to have been put into the film just to offer up some (massive) cleavage in a film that's literally a sausage-fest the rest of the time. While boobs are always appreciated in horror films, clothed boobs not so much...
One of the film's major problems revolves around the trapped group of kitchen workers trying to find a phone to call the police, which left me wondering if a film like this, where one of the main ideas is trying to find a phone while struggling through one life-threatening situation after another, is even relevant to today's audience who has to do nothing more than reach into a pocket to retrieve a cell phone. Obviously, I can remember the pre-cell phone age very well, but it seems like the typical (younger) audience for a horror film like this would be completely unfamiliar with a similar situation, thus making the urgency of the characters’s plight seem goofy. Have we as a society become so accustomed to having the convenience of portable phones that the notion of having to search for a phone in a time of crisis is a story idea that we just can't relate to?
Anyways, as good as Asylum Blackout is for at least an hour of its run time (and really, it's shockingly effective), the final twenty minutes or so go so far into torture porn territory that its rather disappointing. I can typically buy the descent into this uncomfortably graphic cinematic territory better in foreign horror films that at least (usually) seem to be have some sort of craftsmanship applied to the overall film and don’t just offer up grotesqueries for the sake of dumping blood all over the screen or thrusting dismembered body parts towards the camera. Nevertheless, a film that was stylishly controlled while eliciting some creepy moments as our characters worked their way through a labyrinthine mental hospital in the dark got an eye-roll from me when the main focus of the film was directed at someone being eviscerated with a pointed metal rod or another man's face being burned off on a gas stove. Such horrific visuals almost make one forget how polished the film was in its early stages.
Despite the hideously violent final quarter, I'd have to say that Asylum Blackout is much better than I would have hoped. Sure, it's not the greatest thing ever made, but it's certainly a step above the normal, painfully formulaic horror flick. A nifty John Carpenter-esque music score by Christophe Chassol, well-developed characters, decent acting and satisfying amounts of suspense and eventually gore ensure that the film works through and compensates for some missteps along the way. Honestly, I had little expectations for this movie and was pleasantly surprised. Asylum Blackout would not be pleasant viewing for sensitive viewers, but I'd definitely recommend it for the horror genre fan or the viewer who’s game for a graphic but suspense-filled low-budget thriller.
DVD Details = The DVD from IFC Films (appropriately, part of their "Midnight" line) is widescreen format with only a theatrical trailer. Some additional bonus features would have been nice, but hell, they might have (GASP!) explained the ending....
Blood & Guts = After two-thirds of the film operates more on a psychological level, the final twenty minutes load on the gore and torture. Definitely not for sensitive viewers.
Language = Quite a bit of profanity and crude language, but what would you expect from the members of a bootleg rock band?
Fap Factor = One woman inserted into the film primarily to show off her abundant cleavage in a low-cut shirt. Otherwise, the film is a complete sausage party.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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