This Asylum Offers Sparks, But No Fire
In his recent reviews, my colleague, Eric Havens, has been writing about “slow burn” in independent films. I now have a movie I’d like to submit for that category: Asylum Blackout. This one is a little different, though, in that only the first third of it simmers; then, when it sparks, it doesn’t ignite into anything very memorable.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first third of Asylum Blackout, even though nothing much happens. We’re introduced to three young men who by day work in the kitchen at an asylum for the criminally insane and by night and play in a band (that is, when everyone remembers to show up). I got a very good sense of the characters in this introduction. Especially effective is Rupert Evans as George, long-haired leader of the band, who is dedicated to both the potential success of the band and the reality of having to keep a job to pay the bills until that happens. He seems sad, but he’s definitely a “good guy”. His cohorts are a little less defined, one is even broadly painted as the typical dimwit.
There is a long, slow sequence near the beginning where the guys are serving a meal to the residents of the asylum through a slot in a huge, Plexiglas window. While there’s a little banter among them, it’s mostly silent stares between George and individuals as they approach to get their trays. One after the other, food is put on a tray, a nurse sets a small paper cup with pills on the tray, George slides it through the slot, and a resident takes it. George obviously has worked there a while; he knows with which men to be friendly and with which to avert his gaze. It’s a wonderfully-ominous sequence with interesting camera angles and reflections in the window where George’s face is almost superimposed upon each resident’s.
It seems to be building to something bad. Indeed, in the second third of Asylum Blackout, the titular incident happens and the facility loses power at dinner time during a storm. So, the residents are loose and George is recruited to help escort them all back to their cells. You think they’d be doped up enough to go calmly through the dark halls. Ah, but one of the things George spotted while serving up food was at least one of the residents spitting out his pills. And we wouldn’t have much of a movie if things proceeded calmly, would we?
Here is where I expected all Hell to break loose. And I suppose it might have. But with no power comes no light and I couldn’t really tell what was happening. There is a lot of screaming in the background and loud noises, but, oddly, no suspense or scares. It could have been quite effective; you don’t have to always see the horror. However, it’s such a dark part of the movie that it’s hard to get anything out of it. Nothing else happens here but a lot of mild chaos.
Asylum Blackout picks up in its final third when someone finally finds a flashlight. George is captured, though not killed like the security guards, probably because he was nice to them in the cafeteria. But not so nice that he won’t be tortured just a little. Finally we see some violence and gore, but it never builds to a truly satisfying resolution. It’s entertaining, for sure, and it picks up speed, but it never explodes into a finale that’s worth all the buildup. I probably shouldn’t complain about a movie that doesn’t end in an over-the-top, fiery climax; however, I needed just a little more to be happy.
There’s a brief epilogue to Asylum Blackout that returns to the mood of its first third, while retaining the violence of its final third. It’s somewhat ambiguous, if you choose to view it that way. I really wanted to… and I really wanted to like this unknown, independent movie. But I think I was trying to force more out of Asylum Blackout than it was able to give. It’s worth watching, but I wouldn’t expect big rewards.