REVIEW: Asylum of Darkness
– By Kriss Pickering
They say there are no original ideas left these days, and that every new film, TV show and song we see and hear are simply rehashed versions of old ideas. In fact, the horror genre that we all know and love is a prime example of this theory. Out of the droves of indie horror movies that are released every year, I could probably count on one hand how many are not either possession, masked killer, haunted house or insane asylum based (or even a mixture of them all).
On the surface, Asylum of Darkness (written and directed by Jay Woelfel), which I’m sure you have already guessed is set in an insane asylum, is no different. But if you can see past the cliched setting, and ignore the film’s lack of budget, you will find it is a cleverly shot bit of psychological horror which goes out of its way to challenge your way of thinking by blurring the lines between reality and the malfunctioning mind of a mental patient.
In Asylum of Darkness, the story revolves around the imprisonment of a man (Dwight, played by Nick Baldasare) in a metal hospital, and his subsequent escape. Whilst inside though, he is being treated by Dr. Shaker, portrayed by the late Richard Hatch of Battlestar Galactica fame. To Dwight however, Dr. Shaker appears to him to be a terrifying, rotting corpse. The third recurring character is Dwight’s friend and fellow patient “Van Gogh” (Frank Jones Jr.), a painter who sees evil in his work.
Dwight’s one remaining goal is to escape the asylum, and he puts together a plan to achieve the goal. Unfortunately for him, his dream of blending in and resuming normal life is much more difficult than he imagined. You see, to Dwight, this “normalcy” seems foreign and off, surreal almost. As things start to unravel, Dwight must decide what is real and what is occurring in his own head, all whilst fighting his urge to return to the “prison” he once was bound…
From the off, we the viewer see things from Dwight’s perspective, which is a clever ploy by writer/director Jay Woelfel. Because everything is so fucked up we naturally question Dwight’s sanity. On paper, this is a really good idea, but unfortunately the execution doesn’t really work. In the end, it’s just too much and lacks subtlety. In my opinion, the effect could be better achieved by toning down the insanity which would really make the viewer think. However, I did like the decision to shoot using 35mm film, which gives the movie a gritty and dreamy effect.
The big plus for the film is in fact the messed up plot which, while probably being a little too long (2 hours is too long for any horror film), is brilliantly layered and expertly sets up an expectation in the viewer’s head, before harshly taking the story in the opposite direction! It is also packed full of symbolism that gets the viewers mind working, as well as some decently executed jump scares scattered about too!
The second big hook is for old school horror fans. There are some brilliant practical effects in the film, which in these days of dirt cheap, and even cheaper looking CGI is always a welcome sight. And if you are a “gorehound” then you wont be disappointed. If you combine these with the 35mm film it was shot using, it feels like you are watching something the likes of Sam Raimi would put together.
Acting wise, Nick Baldasare is the face you see the most, appearing in virtually every single scene as well as narrating, and to be fair he does a decent job. Sure, there are one or two flatly delivered lines and a couple of awkward facial expressions, but overall he should be pleased with his level of performance. The supporting cast, however, is where the real acting quality is! Richard Hatch’s experience shines in his portrayal of Dr Shaker. And credit should also go to Amanda Howell who makes the most of a limited part as Dwight’s wife.
To sum things up, Asylum of Darkness may sound like a B-Movie flick, and on the surface it is. But if you are willing to ignore the overused “insanity” and the slight pacing issues, beneath the surface is a fairly satisfying psychological thriller, with plenty of gore and refreshing practical effects!