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Asylum (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/15/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/13/2008

The rule in Hollywood is supposedly "You're only as good as your last movie." However, there seem to be many stars who are immune to this chestnut, as they continue to release crap. And yet, there are often truly talented people, or at least artists who have made enjoyable movies, who suffer one hit to their resume and are suddenly yesterday's news. Stuntman-turned-Director David R. Ellis had impressed me with Final Destination 2 and Cellular, and he was set to really hit the big time with Snakes on a Plane. But that film died a quick internet-induced death. (And the movie was pretty damned stupid to boot.) Now, Ellis has followed up that failure with Asylum, a supernatural horror movie which is a huge step backwards.

Asylum takes place at Richard Miller University (Dick Miller U.? Seriously?), where freshman Madison (Sarah Roemer) arrives on campus. She moves into a newly opened dorm, where she is joined by fellow freshmen Maya (Carolina Garcia), "String" (Cody Kasch), Tommy (Travis Van Winkle), Ivy (Ellen Hollman), and Holt (Jake Muxworthy). During their orientation with R.A. Rez (Randall Sims), they are told that the dormitory was newly renovated and that they should never venture into the older sections of the building. However, String, a computer hacker, has learned that the dorm was originally an insane asylum run by Dr. Magnus Burke (no actor credited). Burke experimented on teenagers, and used a lobotomy method where needles were jabbed into the patient's eyes. Not liking this treatment, the patients revolted and killed Burke. Soon, the new students begin to see strange things around the dorm and the ghost (?) of Dr. Burke learns to exploit their own tragic pasts against them. Madison, who has a history of mental illness in her family, first wonders if she's going crazy, and then realizes that she's truly in danger!

In my recent review for the film April Fool's Day, I wrote about the fact that the movie was shot in my hometown and that spotting familiar locales was the only interesting thing about the movie. With Asylum, it was my wife's turn, as the movie was shot where she did some of her undergrad work. ("I had honor's English in that building!") And like April Fool's Day, a game of "Hey, I know that place!" was the only thing which kept me from fast-forwarding through Asylum.

Asylum suffers from a drastic case of "seen-it-all-before-itis". The film opens with an 8-year old Madison witnessing her father committing suicide -- thus her fears of mental illness running through the family. This sort of depressing opening/adult trauma has been in many movies. The idea of the inmates killing the cruel director of an asylum was lifted directly from House on Haunted Hill. Then, we have the creepy caretaker (Joe Inscoe), who warns everyone to stay away.

However, the biggest insult comes in the fact that the second half of the film plays just like a Nightmare on Elm Street movie (specifically parts 4 & 5). Each of the characters holds a terrible secret (everyone has baggage, but what are the odds of all of these damaged people coming together? Aren't they only 18?), and Dr. Burke psychically learns of their pasts and uses it to torment them. There's no sugar-coating here, Burke essentially becomes Freddy Krueger and begins to kill the characters by placing them in their darkest memories. One of the murders is nearly a carbon-copy of one from the Elm Street movies. The only difference is that the victims aren't sleeping and that Dr. Burke has his lobotomy needles instead of knives.

These unoriginal factors lead to a boring and tedious movie, which is surprising, as Ellis' other movies have been, if nothing else, action-packed. But, Asylum seems to creep along. We meet the characters, listen to them spout incredibly unrealistic dialogue, and then watched them get picked off one-by-one. The second and third acts are incredibly tiresome, as the film becomes very episodic. Each time that a character is alone, we know that Burke is about to torture them. The movie also grows more and more unrealistic as it goes on. At the beginning, the dorm is full of students, but by the second half, only our main cast is around. Where did everyone else go? Is Fall Break here already?

Going off to college can be one of the scariest times in a young person's life, and this would make a great premise of a horror movie. However, Asylum doesn't even come close to addressing this issue, as it's only interested in inane dialogue and cheap scare set-pieces. The story is unoriginal, the characters are unlikable, and the pacing is snail-like. The only positive thing that I can say about Asylum is that it's (probably) the best film made in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2007.

Asylum skips freshman orientation on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Please keep in mind that I was viewing a special preview disc for this review. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. However, this is a very dark movie (no one turns on any lights in the dorm, although, there are always lights in the windows in the establishing shots), and this translates to a DVD which is quite dark at times. There was also some noticeable pixellation in some shots, but, again, this could be attributed to the preview disc. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers some nice stereo effects, which play well to the students hearing odd noises in the dorm. The action scenes contains notable surround effects and there are a few moments where the "boom" of the subwoofer drives a scene home.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long