Thursday, August 07, 2008

REVIEW: Asylum (2007)

I probably would never have rented ASYLUM, a college-kids-on-the-run-from-a-madman slashfest, had it not been for an on-line banner ad that touted the behind-the-camera contribution of director David Ellis. While some probably know him better as the director of the over-rated Samuel L Jackson hypemachine SNAKES ON A PLANE, I prefer to remember him fondly as the man behind the witty and gore-packed FINAL DESTINATION 2, so far the series’ highpoint (Ellis is returning to helm the 3-D fourth installment).

After checking in to ASYLUM yesterday I quickly realized I shoulda stuck with my gut instinct and passed this one by.

Written by EUREKA writer/producer Ethan Lawrence, ASYLUM has a half-decent if familiar mad-doctor hook to pique your interest. Misguided psychiatrist Magnus Burke (played by hard-working Mark Rolston) was lobotomizing his teenage patients by shoving large metal spikes through their eye sockets and into their brains. Naturally, the teens revolted and turned the tables on the not-so-good doctor and his reign of mayhem and murder was exposed.

Unfortunately, whatever interest this scenario cooks up is quickly overshadowed by the cargo container labeled ‘Plot Contrivances’ that lands on the flick’s doorstep with a thunderous crash. Madison (Sarah Roemer, DISTURBIA’s Ashley) lost both her father and brother to suicide via mental illness, so, naturally she and her mother decide to send her to the same school where her sibling killed himself a year earlier. Taking residence in the school’s new dorm, she and her fellow students quickly discover that the dorm is attached via catwalk to Dr. Burke’s unrenovated metal facility, complete with the medical equipment, surgical apparatus and, oh yeah, complete patient files that were abandoned decades earlier.

As if that’s not enough, the characters that make up her fellow students all come with handy labels (Tough Hispanic Chick, Slutty Girl, Sensitive Artist Guy, Virginal Prodigy, and the odd combo of Stoner Jock Clown), not to mention convenient backstories filled with their own personal demons/secrets.

Do I even need to mention that Burke’s body was… never found?!?!

Unfortunately, ASYLUM quickly devolves from whatever it was trying to be into a third-rate (and I’m being generous) ELM STREET rip-off, complete with a wise-cracking boogieman who wields sharp instruments and exhorts the troubled teens to give up their pain. Half the time I was watching it I had to check and make sure a copy of ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS hadn’t snuck its way into my DVD player.

Combine the by-the-numbers plotline and gaping plot holes with some really annoying performances (namely Travis Van Winkle as former fatboy Tommy and Randall Sims as the dorm’s graduate resident) and, considering the behind-the-scenes talent, you’ve got a pretty disappointing way to spend an afternoon.

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