Title: Asylum Blackout
Director: Alexandre Courtes
Starring: Rupert Evans, Kenny Doughly, Joseph Kennedy, Dave Legeno
Part thriller of containment, part horror movie, “Asylum Blackout” is a skillfully cobbled together little calling card of a film, suffused with woozy dread. If in the end it’s a bit short on convincing payoff, its atmospheric spell should generally satisfy genre fans and also augur good things for all those involved.
Formerly known as “The Incident,” but re-titled in more forthright fashion, director Alexandrer Courtes’ movie centers on a group of friends and aspirant musicians who, between small gigs, work as kitchen cooks in a high security mental asylum in Washington State. It’s not ideal, but George (Rupert Evans), Max (Kenny Doughly) and Ricky (Joseph Kennedy) have no physical contact with the inmates, and their work helps to fund a bit of studio recording time. When a big storm fries the wiring for the security system one dark and rainy evening, however, things take a turn for the worse. The guys are recruited by the one guard remaining on their side of the unit to help escort the patients back to their cells, but things quickly devolve, and George and his friends are soon fighting for their lives.
Director Brad Anderson (“Session 9,” “Vanishing on 7th Street,” the superlative “Sounds Like” episode of the “Masters of Horror” series) cut his teeth on stuff like this, moody sleights of hand in which small character ensembles grapple with unraveling sanity in grave and otherwise diminishing situations. Sound design and style matter enormously in such cinematic undertakings. So “Asylum Blackout” helmer Courtes and cinematographer Laurent Tangy imprint a strong and frequently compelling visual scheme on the proceedings; in this respect, their film recalls “Pontypool,” another low-budget thriller that made unnervingly excellent use of its dingy, confined setting.
Certain narrative faultlines open up in the third act, however. For much of its running time, “Asylum Blackout” operates as a pure genre piece, but tilted toward realism over empty gore. The gnarly bloodletting that comes later is convincingly staged, but a bit lacking in motivation. Are literally all of these inmate characters psychopaths prone to opportunistic willy-nilly violence when the lights go out? Nipping a bit of inspiration from “The Jacket,” S. Craig Zahler’s screenplay makes a sideways pitch for psychological statement, but its big twist or revelation doesn’t completely come together in a coherent fashion. That said, the movie’s strong performances (Evans is particularly good), effective production design and value, and technical polish make “Asylum Blackout” a moody treat for genre fans inclined to take a flier on a movie with lesser known talent.
NOTE: In addition to its theatrical engagements, “Asylum Blackout” is available nationwide on IFC Midnight Cable VOD, and a wide variety of other digital outlets, including iTunes, SundanceNOW, Xbox Zune and Amazon Streaming.
Written by: Brent Simon