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'Asylum Blackout' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


'Asylum Blackout' movie poster
© IFC Midnight
It's a safe bet that the mental health industry loathes horror movies. Psychiatric institutions -- more derisively termed insane asylums within the genre -- have long been portrayed as cesspools of filth and abuse housing out-of-control patients who will slit your throat and eat your kidneys if given half a chance. The latest asylum horror flick sports the self-explanatory title Asylum Blackout (formerly The Incident), and while it won't do any good for the image of the mental health industry, it's a great way for horror movie fans to spend an hour and a half.

The Plot

Twenty-something slackers George (Rupert Evans), Max (Kenny Doughty) and Ricky (Joseph Kennedy) are struggling musicians in a late '80s Washington state grunge band who also work together at the the Sans Asylum, a local psychiatric institution. They cook and serve food to the patients through a bank-like wall of thick glass protecting them from the general population, who are kept at bay by a surprisingly small security force led by taskmaster J.B. (Dave Legeno), aided by a steady dose of narcotizing pills the patients ingest daily.

One stormy evening, while the patients are in the cafeteria, the power in the building goes out. The cooks are terrified to learn that the electronic security doors leading outside have locked, trapping them in darkness inside the asylum. With the guards spread out across the building and no way to reach them, J.B. deputizes the trio and another cook named William (Marcus Garvey) to escort the patients back to their cells. Little do they know that a few of the populac have already begun to rise up and attack the guards. They soon find out, however, when the insurrection spreads through the population, sending the cooks into survival mode as violent atrocity after violent atrocity begins to pile up.

The End Result

A scene from 'Asylum Blackout'.

A scene from 'Asylum Blackout'.

© IFC Midnight
Asylum Blackout is an imperfect gem in the rough that begins like a drama, slowly evolves into a suspense thriller and ends as an all-out horror show. It has a refreshing and assured indie vibe that downplays cheap scares (musical cues, camera trickery and the like) in favor of a more matter-of-fact display of graphic, bloody mayhem that is all the more chilling because of its realistic approach. Despite its grimness, it's an attractively shot film, featuring sweeping, cinematic visuals; it's not surprising to discover that director Alexandre Courtès, making his feature debut, is a veteran of music videos for acts like U2, The White Stripes and Jane's Addiction. And being part of the new wave of French horror (including High Tension, Frontier(s) and Martyrs), it's also not surprising that this flick is unapologetically brutal.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- its strengths, Asylum Blackout is more style over substance. The story is thin, the characters are undeveloped and the script introduces several extraneous plot points that aren't fully explored. It then shoehorns in a twist ending that's more perplexing than it is impactful, in part because there's not enough foreshadowing along the way to make it feel plausible. The myriad of characters make for some confusing moments -- and make us wish up-and-coming writer S. Craig Zahler (who has had a script top the esteemed Black List and has another with Michael Mann attached to direct) had more concretely established the patients' identities and personalities before "the incident" -- and the confusion is exacerbated by muffled dialogue that seems to be a combination of murky sound and mumbly delivery.

All that said, Asylum Blackout is still a thrilling, visceral experience. It's a survival horror movie that might turn off those with little patience for nihilistic violence, but it captures the inhumanity of man on a horrifying scale, playing like a contained zombie apocalypse -- but with the living.

The Skinny

  • Acting: B- (Some of the dialogue is overly subdued and mumbly, but otherwise the cast is effective at capturing the moment.)
  • Direction: B (Grim but still picturesque and cinematic, downplaying clichéd scares.)
  • Script: C- (A thrilling concept, but the characters need more delineation, and dangling plot points need to serve more purpose.)
  • Gore/Effects: B+ (Gruesome and realistic gore.)
  • Overall: B- (Slow buidling but invigorating, gritty and gruesome.)

Asylum Blackout is directed by S. Craig Zahler and is not rated by the MPAA. Release date: May 4, 2012 (in theaters and on demand).

Disclosure: The distributor provided free access to this movie for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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