Asylum Review
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David R. Ellis has a hit-and-miss résumé as a director. The title most of you are probably familiar with is the over-hyped yet diverting classic, Snakes on a Plane. Ellis’s newest flick, Asylum, however, lacks the cheese factor that made SoaP’s 100 minutes of exploitation and cheese a guilty pleasure.

Years ago, young Madison (Sarah Roemer) and her brother witnessed the suicide of their slightly insane father. But now it’s time for Madison to attend college—and to come to terms with the death of both her father and her brother, Brandon, who recently committed suicide at the same college. At orientation, Madison gets acquainted with an eclectic group of other freshmen—all of whom, as we quickly learn, have dark pasts. There’s the cutter, the cool and sexy guy who’s a recovering drug addict, the blond who was abused by her father, the jock with the fat past, the quiet kid with mother issues...need I go on?

The plot kicks into second gear (and stays there) when the students learn that their dorm was once a mental asylum, overseen by a Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston), who performed barbaric ice pick lobotomies on teenagers with mental issues—until the students rebelled and gave him a taste of his own medicine. Legend says that Burke still wanders the halls with his picks, looking for disturbed brains to fix.

Soon, our small group enters an unfinished and forbidden area of the dorm, where they discover the remnants of Burke’s facility. Just to make the place creepier, the old patient beds and the doc’s patient files haven’t even been removed—what are the odds? Before you know it, Burke is up and killing. And the freshmen, after having horrible visions à la Freddy Kruger, no longer have to worry about their GPAs.

Partly to blame for Asylum’s lameness is the vacuous script by Ethan Lawrence (surprisingly, one of the writers on Sci-Fi’s great series, Eureka). The dumb teen characters are tired clichés, bumbling their way through a plot that’s made up of too much awkward exposition. For the most part, the actors do a competent job with the insipid material they have to work with, but none are given room to develop in the flaccid narrative. When the students begin to open up to each other, letting everyone know the darkest secrets from their past, everything is telegraphed so self-consciously that all suspense is lost.

Ellis’s direction also lacks imagination, tension, and substantial scares. And plot holes abound. At one point, Burke chases our heroes into a room where they barricade themselves in with shelves—but he doesn’t follow. A few minutes later, we discover that he can appear and disappear wherever he pleases. Surprise!

The production valve does come across as relatively high for a low-budget feature, so—at least aesthetically—the movie comes out on top. The only complaint I have on the production end is that a number of scenes are so darkly shot that, at times, it’s almost impossible to make out what’s happening.

So is this Asylum worth visiting? All I’ll say is that it’s better than a poke in the eye with a large ice pick. Take that how you will.

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