Review: Asylum Blackout (2011)
Director: Alexandre Courtes
Starring: Rupert Evans, Richard Brake, Anna Skellern, Dave Legeno, Darren Kent
Also known as ‘The Incident’ this here is a Belgian production (in English) of a script penned by S. Craig Zahler, who gave us the superb Bone Tomahawk.
I read about this in an interview with Zahler and immediately sought it out, hoping for something just as good as his own directorial debut. Sadly, if predictably, it falls quite short of Tomahawk’s greatness.
The story concerns a group of Foo Fighter wannabes who work together as cooks in a mental asylum for the criminally insane by day and play in a rock band by night. Problem number one is that these guys come over as total neckbeards. There’s the sulky one who is pissed off with the lazy one because he doesn’t take the band seriously enough, then there’s the hard working one who tries to hold everything together, but the sulky one resents him because of his hot girlfriend and… you get the idea. The lazy one has no distinguishing characteristics whatsoever, apart from an inability to remember band practice, or to find a decent hiding place when all hell breaks loose.
An excessive length of time is spent laying the groundwork as we get familiar with these characters (such as they are) and the creepy institutional setting. The blackout doesn’t happen until about 40 minutes into the film. I’ve heard people complaining about the slow build up in Bone Tomahawk as well, and I guess it must be a characteristic of Zahler’s writing. But for me, it wasn’t a problem in Bone Tomahawk, because the dialogue and characters were interesting enough to justify it and keep me interested. I never felt bored at all watching Bone Tomahawk and I’ve watched it twice. Alas, that’s not the case here. These frustrated, discontented musicians are just complete bores who, in reality, are probably no good for anything more than doling out slops in the asylum canteen. They certainly don’t have anything interesting to talk about.
Rather more intriguing are the inmates themselves. Here we have a high-quality assortment of convincing, ugly and creepy looking bastards. They’re jittery, sinister and prone to freaking out and becoming violent. I also liked the bulked up security chief, J.B, played by the late Dave Legeno, a former professional wrestler, who was in 2010’s Centurion as well, along with Michael Fassbender.
When there’s a power cut (caused by a storm, really?) and the asylum is cast into darkness, the inmates/patients almost immediately start to run amok. Instead of calling the police, the security chief rather foolishly entrusts a couple of the kitchen staff to escort half of the lunatics back to their rooms, whilst he deals with the real troublemakers personally. Apparently this institution spends more money feeding it’s inmates that it does on security.
From here, the film takes place entirely in the dark (yeah, I know, but still…) and consists of little more than the bandmates creeping about and trying to hide from the inmates, before they’re gradually picked off one by one, to be tortured and killed in quite brutal ways. Yeah, you can see Zahler’s bloodthirsty imagination at work, but this certainly isn’t him at his best. Then again, it would have been interesting to see how the film would’ve turned out had he directed it.
There’s a bit of a twist at the end, which is the subject of some discussion on the IMDB. In my view, it’s not a huge twist, and not a lot needs to be read into it, although it did make the film’s conclusion slightly more unsettling, but still barely justified sitting through the whole picture.
Over the course of it’s 85 minute running time Asylum Blackout has it’s fair share of bloody violence, including a guy biting off his own finger. But on the other hand there are a handful of killings and assaults which are only hinted at (possibly due to budgetary constraints, and possibly to avoid accusations of excessive bad taste) but that left me feeling a bit short-changed to be honest.
Overall, this was a decent idea, but I felt there was a lot more that could’ve been done with it.