The Asylum (2015)
And this one surprised me, though at least it was a pleasant surprise, not one of those “the tests came back positive” surprises. In fact, a few minutes into it, and I had actually switched it off, thinking it was going to be a mix of annoying and predictable, but my partner made me switch it back on again – don’t go telling her she was right and I was wrong, again, she has enough ammunition already.
THE ASYLUM, previously known as EXETER and BACKMASK (and has nothing to do with either the mockbuster-making studio or with a hundred other movies with the same title), opens with a topless woman walking around some filthy hovel (which is probably fulfilling some particular fetish out there in the Interwebs) before being killed and giving us a better look at her norks. As expected.
We then cut to the outside of the Exeter youth asylum and crematorium (a strange combination, but then I always wondered why you could get shoes repaired and keys made in the same place, or how ham and pineapple somehow ended up on top of pizzas together). The place has been closed down following a massive fire, after a series of reported tales of supernatural happenings and abuse when the Church was running things (shock, shock, horror, horror, who would have imagined such a thing?), and Father Conway (Stephen Lang, AVATAR and the TV series SALEM), who used to work there but looking like he’d be more at home at Hogwarts teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, is overseeing the renovation of the place.
One of the teens helping out, Patrick (Kelly Blatz, PROM NIGHT), seems conscientious enough, so he gets upset when he learns that his friends are planning to use his access to the property to have a loud booze rave, which certainly seems preferable to trashing one of their parents’ suburban places. After a few hours of this, most of the extras leave, intimating that the asylum is haunted and it’s best not to hang around after dark.
Fortunately we have a group of ghost fodder (including the obligatory stoner, slutty blonde and fat guy) willing to hang around anyway, including nice girl Reign (Brittany Curran), with whom Patrick is smitten, and Rory (Michael Ormsby), Patrick’s annoying younger brother (though to be fair the kid doesn’t seem that bad, so I’ll put it down to elder sibling bias.
The gang talk about the evil past of Exeter, and then one of them wants to try that hoary old trick where you lift someone with just your fingertips, and Rory gets chosen to be the Designated Stiff. It works, but afterwards Rory gets possessed by some evil spirit. And it’s a decent possession too, effective without being overblown and CGI-laden.
The initial scepticism (believing Rory has just taken some bad drugs) is soon dispelled, especially when an intruder gets killed, the building locks itself down and refuses to let them leave, Father Conway returns, and the shit, as they say, gets real.
THE ASYLUM shouldn’t work. For one thing, it’s had a number of changes of name, from BACKMASK (alluding to an almost incidental scene where the gang talk about backwards messages in LPs) to EXETER to this rather generic title. For another, it’s directed by Marcus Nispel, whose filmography has included disappointing remakes or adaptations of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FRANKENSTEIN, PATHFINDER, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and CONAN THE BARBARIAN – THE ASYLUM is his first truly original work.
And the results aren’t perfect – there’s an uneasy mix in tones of comedy and horror – but what you get is a fairly fast-paced story, and the humour is not slapstick but more along the lines of THE EVIL DEAD (the fact that we have some hapless young people trapped in an isolated place seemingly possessed by demons one of one is also there), including a scene where the group initially tries to exorcise the possessed Rory by going to a website that makes it look like an airline safety instruction video (and yes, it only makes things worse).
And there’s some graphic mayhem to go with the energy and pace, including faces getting half-sliced off and having eyes gouged out with toothbrushes. Don’t expect something frightening, but do expect something fun.
THE ASYLUM is available on DVD in the UK, and in selected outlets in the US. The trailer is below under the previous EXETER title.
Director: Marcus Nispel
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. Putting the Ass in Asylum.