I watch a fair number of horror films. I try to stay up on (mostly independent) new releases and upcoming projects, but I can’t watch everything. So, in an effort to maximize the efficiency of my time spent watching horror films, I often look to the recommendations of friends/twitter “friends”/respected horror critics. When I come across a recommendation that sounds interesting, I add it to my queue and wait. Often, when a disc arrives (that means DVD/physical media) I wonder how the hell I ended up putting it in my queue. Such is the case with Asylum Blackout.
George is the responsible one among the kitchen crew working at an institution housing the criminally insane way out in the middle of nowhere. He does things right the first time and diplomatically tempers the petty squabbles of his slacker coworkers, who are also his best friends, bandmates, and ex-roommates. One night (day maybe?), the place loses all power during a particularly intense storm. This isn’t ideal since many of the doors at the asylum are electronically locked. Now the kitchen crew is trapped in the remote place trying to survive the ensuing riot – seemingly led by an alpha creep – until help arrives.
Going into Asylum Blackout, I assumed it would fall somewhere on the spectrum of exploiting audience fears of the mentally ill. And it does to a small degree. But George treats the inmates with kindness and respect. And when the shit does hit the fan, only some of the inmates become violent. It’s far from straight-up exploitation. The characters defend themselves from the opportunistic onslaught realistically too. They aren’t suddenly ninjas or MMA champs (which sounds small, but happens in more movies than it should). They scramble and hide and fight inelegantly. There is a pervasive sense of peril that follows these guys through the darkened corridors of the asylum. The film seamlessly weaves George’s character development into that tension. We see him agonize over his inability to help a friend in danger. He puts himself in harm’s way to try to help a battered guard. He assumes a leadership role and takes responsibility for the group. And it’s all done in a smart, nuanced way. I was very impressed. I wondered why the film hadn’t gotten more buzz or how I managed to miss it when it was released. I thought, “this is a great movie!” Sure, some of the acting is amateurish. And there are some scenes with very bad ADR. But those are forgivable in low-budget films. Especially when the other elements are solid like they are in the first 75 minutes of Asylum Blackout. (uh oh) Unfortunately, the film is 85 minutes long. The ending is so hackneyed and illogical that all of the good the film did up to that point can easily be forgotten.
The Final Cut: Asylum Blackout is a (mostly) smart indie with a compelling lead, great tension, and effective violence. Despite a few common low-budget issues, it’s a top-notch film… all the way until the last 10 minutes. Turn it off when the cops show up and make up your own ending.