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Insanitarium (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/15/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

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

For reasons which I cannot begin to answer, metal hospitals have become the haunted houses of the new millennium. Over the past decade, I've seen an alarming number of horror films which are set in these locations, most of them abandoned. As someone who once worked on a psychiatric unit, I find these movies fascinating, as they are usually wildly inaccurate in their portrayal of mental health treatment. (My favorite facet which is commonly repeated in these movies is that when a hospital is closed, all of the patient records are simply left sitting out for all to see.) The newly released shocker Insanitarium joins the ranks of these unrealistic movies. But, in the end, this film doesn't care. It wants to prove that it can be as crazy as any of its characters.

Jesse Metcalfe (who played Gabriel's love interest on the first season of Desperate Housewives) stars in Insanitarium as Jack. Jack's mother has a long-standing history of mental health problems, thus Jack isn't entirely surprised when his sister, Lily (Kiele Sanchez, who played Nikki on Lost) attempts suicide. However, Jack is shocked when Lily is committed to a mental hospital and he isn't allowed to see her or communicated with her. Thus, Jack takes drastic measures to rescue his sister. He memorizes the layout of the facility and then goes on a rampage through a park. This results in his arrest and incarceration in the same place where Lily is being held. However, the hospital is nothing like what Jack had imagined. The medical director, Dr. Gianetti (Peter Stormare) is using an experimental drug called Orpheum on his patients. He believes that it will help to relieve them of their symptoms. Little does he know that it's making them even sicker. Jack makes friends with a fellow patient, Dave (Kevin Sussman) and a nurse, Nancy (Olivia Munn), and he attempts to put his rescure plan together. But, little does he know that he must not only escape with Lily, but with his own life as well!

At first glance, Insanitarium looks like a rip-off of TV's Prison Break, set in a mental hospital instead of a prison. And in the beginning, this is exactly what it is. Just like Michael Scofield on that show, Jack enters the hospital with a plan to bust out with Lily, but soon learns that life on the inside is much harder than he had thought. There are many wards and getting to Lily is not easy. On top of that, he must maintain his charade of being out of control. During this period, Insanitarium shows the same inaccuracies which plagues these insane asylum movies. Despite the fact that this hospital is huge, there are apparently only five employees and all of them work 24 hours a day. Most of the hospital is kept dark, save for the futuristic maximum security ward. In real life, patients who have been committed against their will are allowed to go before a judge -- nothing like that happens here. Yes, the first part of Insanitarium plays like any other film in the genre.

But, in the second half, the gloves suddenly come off and Insanitarium turns into a different kind of movie. I shouldn't be giving too much away to say that Dr. Gianetti's experiments go awry, and I'll leave the spoilers at that. I will go one step further and say that the inmates begin to take over the asylum. From this point, Insanitarium becomes a surprisingly graphic and violent movie. We get a bizarre sex scene, amputations, stabbings, and a multitude of mayhem. While the first half of the movie certainly wasn't a family film, nothing prepared me for the amount of gore and nastiness in the film's third act. A great deal of blood is spilled and I have to say that even I was shocked when Jack is chased by a topless crazy. (Some of the film's latter scenes reminded me of Brett Leonard's The Dead Pit.)

In some ways, Insanitarium mirrors the behavior of some of the characters. In the beginning, things are somewhat sedate and very familiar. There are some small outbursts, but nothing to distinguish itself. However, in the second half, all hell breaks loose, and suddenly the movie is out of control. I won't go as far as to say that Insanitarium is a good movie, as it has too many pitfalls, but gorehounds should be pleased with the violent final reel and those who are tired of seeing the same institution movie over and over will revel in this movies unbridled approach to the genre.

Insanitarium needs to be restrained on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image here is fairly sharp and clear, showing basically no grain and no defects from the source material. A quick check of any scene in the maximum security ward, where everything is white, will show that the grain level is low and that the image has a nice clarity to it. The colors are good, as evidenced by the red blood and the orange jumpsuits. Some scenes are slightly dark, making the action difficult to see. I also noted a lack of detail in some closeups. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects are very good here, and the screams of the patients, both distant and nearby, come through clearly in the rear speakers. Stereo effects are good as well, and they accurately mirror the on-screen action. The subwoofer effects arrive for the "shock" scenes and often punctuate the attacks.

The Insanitarium DVD contains only a few extras. The DVD offers three DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. All three of these focus on a subplot of Jack having visions of his dead mother. This is hinted at in the finished film, but not as explicity as these scenes. "Inside the Asylum: Jesse Metcalfe and Jeff Buhler" (7 minutes) has the director essentially interviewing the actor, who talks about his work on the film. For some reason, this is padded with clips from the movie. "Inside the Asylum: The Patients" (7 minutes) is a behind-the-scenes piece which features candid on-set footage and interviews with various cast members. The final extra is a "Storyboard Gallery".

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long