Asylum (2007)
By: Craig Villinger on August 23, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
MGM (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English, French, Spanish subtitles. 88 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: David R. Ellis
Starring: Sarah Roemer, Jake Muxworthy, Cody Kasch, Carolina Garcia, Mark Rolston, Travis Van Winkle
Screenplay: Ethan Lawrence
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
What does a director who has just helmed one of the most sensationally hyped cinematic releases of all time do for a follow-up? A relatively low-key haunted house/slasher picture that virtually by-passed the big screen altogether before being ushered onto DVD shelves with very little fanfare might not seem like the logical choice, but that's exactly what David R. Ellis has done with Asylum, his first outing post-Snakes on a Plane.

Madison (Sarah Roemer - the object of Shia LaBeouf's affections in Disturbia), a girl with a tormented past and a few "issues" thanks to a history of family suicides, is one of six students that have just moved in to a newly refurbished college dormitory – but, like Madison, the building has its share of history. Gathered 'round the glow of a laptop computer one particular evening, the group learns that their new dorm was formerly a mental asylum back in the 1930s run by a mad medico, Dr Magnus Burke, whose radical treatment of troubled teenagers resulted in many deaths and ultimately led to a patient uprising that saw Burke murdered. Naturally though, according to whsipered legends, the good doctor still roams the corridors of his old asylum to this day. Oooooo!

Most of the dorm's sullied back-story is dismissed as baloney by the freshmen, who proceed to pass their free time by sipping alcohol, wandering into restricted areas of the old asylum for exploratory purposes, and experiencing the general ups and downs of the student bonding process. However, as the plot unfolds we discover that young Madison isn't the only one carrying around some heavy emotional baggage, and that the good doctor may indeed have returned from the netherworld to dish out some unwanted treatment and begin his reign of medical deviancy anew!

Asylum seems like a fairly un-ambitious offering from director David R. Ellis. Ellis, who made a name for himself as a stunt co-ordinator and second unit director before stepping into the big chair, has previously directed "high concept" carnage filled movies like Final Destination 2, Cellular, and of course the one with the snakes and the flying machine, but with Asylum it almost seems as though he has gone out of his way to avoid making something that would be hyped up. Was the pre-release hysteria surrounding Snakes on a Plane too much for him to deal with? On paper, just about everything about this film is generic and unimaginative – including the title. "Snakes on a Plane" is the sort of title that makes you think "Holy shit, I've gotta see this movie!", while Asylum, which, according to the IMDB has been the moniker of choice for at least twenty different productions over the past four decades, is the sort of title that has you thinking "Ummm, haven't I already seen that?". You'll be experiencing that sort of deja vu regularly too, as even is you haven't already seen Asylum, you'll certainly feel like you've seen it all before. The asylum's back story is almost identical to the one used for the House on Haunted Hill remake, the characters are all walking cliché's (the computer nerd, the jock, the positive non-Caucasian role model, the…ermmm…slut) and once the killing starts it all feels a bit like any one of the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels with the characters' own inner demons being used against them by the maniacal doctor. And speaking of the doc, he has the charisma of your average 80s masked slashers (though he doesn't wear a mask himself), and in the latter stages of the flick he actually looks as though he's auditioning for the role of "Cenobite #4" in the next Hellraiser movie with his weird bondage style get-up.

That's not to say I utterly loathed Asylum though. In fact, for all its unoriginality and lack of tension the film does offer a few things to help pass the time. As clichéd as the characters are the actors all do a fine job of making them likeable, particularly Roemer, who we'll no doubt be seeing a lot more of in future, and Ellis certainly is no slouch when it comes to laying on the slick eye candy. The film is set almost exclusively inside the cramped environment of the old asylum cum college dorm, but some suitably dark cinematography and grimy set design does add to the purdy appearance, although the use of Euro horror-esque stylized hues felt a tad excessive during the movies shock scenes.

Ultimately though, the film – which sits somewhere between being a quasi atmospheric ghost story and a mindless slasher picture - simply isn't scary enough to please chill seekers, and despite some neat prosthetic effects and one or two moments of genuine unpleasantness it falls short in the gruesome slash and gash department. As the opening sequence of Final Destination 2 and the initial snake attack in Snakes on a Plane will attest, Ellis has a real flair for staging spectacular scenes of carnage, so I don't know why he's chosen to direct such an unexceptional movie here. It's polished, and borders on being fun at times, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was watching a movie made by a director who was simply going through the motions.

Thrills and spills are clearly Ellis' forte, not chills.
Video
Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement, Asylum isn't exactly a good movie, but it does look good. Very good in fact. The transfer is fairly sharp and shows no signs of grain or print damage. Things get very shadowy at times, with much of the final 20 minutes or so taking place in near darkness, but blacks remained solid throughout.
Audio
An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the sole audio option here. The mix is fairly subtle during dialogue heavy scenes, and although a few of the "creepier" moments were very front-centric and could have been enhanced by more surround sound usage, the rear channels and sub woofer kick in to action whenever carnage of the "Doc kills students " variety ensues. It's a low key genre pic, but Asylum does manage to use the full 5.1 soundstage effectively on occasions.
Extra Features
Apart from a small selection of trailers we get absolutely nothing.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A haunted asylum, a bunch of students, a few deaths…you've seen it all before, so do you really need to see it again? Let's hope Ellis was merely saving his creativity for the fourth instalment of the Final Destination series, which is in production as I type this.

The film is average at best, and a complete lack of supplementary features does nothing to encourage an impulse buy. Asylum is good for rental, or better yet a loan from a mate that has already coughed up the dough, but it isn't eaxctly one to add to your prized collection in a hurry.

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