Movie Review: 'Asylum Blackout'

Back in 1982 there was a very cool horror ensemble flick called Alone in the Dark. It starred Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance, and Martin Landau, and it focused on how an unfortunate psychiatrist has to defend his home from a pack of escaped lunatics. It's clunky and dated these days, but there's some actual fun to be found in that flick. But even back in 1982 I remember thinking, "Man, it's really stupid to have an asylum locked down through electricity. You're just begging for a storm, a blackout, a mass escape, and a gory massacre." Thirty years later, not much has changed. The recent French/Belgian/American co-production known as Asylum Blackout proves that pretty capably.

Known on the festival circuit as simply "The Incident," Asylum Blackout is about ... well, guess. A storm, a blackout, a mass escape, and a gory massacre. But whereas Alone in the Dark allowed its raving madmen to break free from their asylum and roam the streets with maniacal intent, the creators of Asylum Blackout are slightly more creative: an electrical storm has allowed dozens of lunatics to break free of their cells, but they're still "safely" locked up inside the building. Unfortunately there are several guards, a few doctors, and a handful of kitchen workers stuck inside the asylum.

That's pretty much it! A few characters who work in a loony-bin kitchen, one of whom is a likable guy, get trapped with some kooks. And these aren't the sedate, drooling sort of lunatics either. At its most intense moments, Asylum Blackout has some fine suspense and a few outrageously gruesome murders -- but there's simply not much there beneath the surface. Taken on only its most basic level, the movie has a rather perfunctory feel to it, with only a few early gestures towards character development tossed in to give us enough set-up to get is into the "siege" section. First-time director Alexandre Courtes has a good feel for sweaty desperation and shrieking demises, but in the departments of building up some sustained suspense or presenting more than a single multi-dimensional character, his debut effort feels a bit lacking.

Asylum Blackout does manage to deliver a few slam-bang sequences once we're well into the madness of the mass escape, and the setting slowly starts to look and feel like the seventh ring of hell, but beyond the surface-level thrills, chills, and enthusiastic blood-spills, the movie proves to be a fairly forgettable affair -- as if there was once a screenplay of more tangible depth that, through the production process, became a pretty straightforward "siege horror" exploit. On that scale, it's not half bad, but there are clearly a few missed opportunities here.