Friday, May 04, 2012

Midnight Madness: Asylum Blackout

If the Beatles had worked as cooks in a maximum security mental hospital, they still would have been vastly more talented than George and his slacker bandmates.  Yet, for a day job, the pay is pretty good and supposedly they are completely out of harm’s way.  Of course, when the power goes out, all bets are off in Alexandre Courtès’ Asylum Blackout (trailer here), which opens a week of midnight screenings tonight at the IFC Center in New York and is also now available on IFC Film’s VOD platforms.

It is 1989, so nobody will spoil the fun by calling for help on their cell-phones.  We will be rooting for George to live, because he is a nice enough guy to care how the patient-inmates’ food tastes.  He also has a hot girlfriend, so he has something to live for.  Regardless, it is going to be a long night when the blackout hits. 

The chief guard, J.B., sounds totally cool, but he is actually an abusive hardnose, which makes the opportunity for some score-settling even more attractive.  In something of a perfect storm for loony bins, George suspects the scariest prisoner, Harry Green, has convinced the rest of the inmates to stop taking their meds.  From there, things descend into bedlam, so to speak, with hints of further eeriness lurking in the margins.

Just to recap, the descriptively titled Asylum Blackout (a.k.a. The Incident) combines a fully stocked nuthouse with a power outage.  As long as the execution is serviceable, this is a bullet-proof concept.  As it happens, Courtès’ work easily surpasses competent, approaching the outright stylish.  The audience never gets any backstory on the loonies, but many at least have weird distinguishing tics.  While Courtès eventually meets the gore quota for midnight movies, he takes his time setting the scene and building the tension—what might be considered horror movie foreplay.

Okay, Asylum Blackout is not The Shining, but it will still creep you out from time to time.  Paul Rouschop’s design team makes the sanitarium feel like a very real and very ominous place to be, even with the lights on.  Rupert Evans is a decent lead and Richard Brake is all kinds of sinister looking as the nefarious Green.  Not nearly the gross-out fest you might expect, Asylum Blackout is a pretty good time at the midnight movies.  Starting tonight (5/4), it screens late nights for a week at the IFC Center and is also available nationwide through IFC’s VOD services.