Released in the states as a digital rental available the same day it arrived in theaters, Asylum Blackout is one of the more watchable independent horror films of 2012. Although, technically speaking, Asylum Blackout should also be referenced as The Incident as it was known in 2011 when production on the French film wrapped.
Helmed by French director, Alexandre Courtès, Asylum Blackout should have been a surefire horror-film win. The set-up is tried and tested: take a couple of friends (in this case, they’re in a band that’s going nowhere), add a maximum security institution for the criminally insane, toss in some bad weather, and then cut the power. What happens when the lights go out? Asylum Blackout. Ta-da! Sounds like horror film gold … maybe.
The film is set in 1989 at a fictional institution called Sans Asylum located in my fair home state, Washington. George (Rupert Evans) is a 20 something musician struggling to pay the bills by cooking at the asylum. He shares the kitchen with a tangle of his friends and fellow band mates. Cook in the day. Feebly attempt to record an album at night. Repeat.
Everything kicks off when a storm rolls through and knocks out the power to the asylum. One by one, the inmates/patients begin wreaking helter skelter on the occupants of the facility until George and his friends are trapped and fighting to survive. Pretty tense, no? Well … sorta. If you call naked guys roaming up and down the darkened halls of an insane asylum tense, then yes, yes it’s tense.
A tender, and somewhat unexpected, moment comes when George places a personal call to his girlfriend to tell her he loves her. It stands out in a generally non-horror-film-characteristic way. After all, the guys in the band are becoming less human/civilized in their attempts to survive and yet George takes the time to say “I love you.”
This attempt to stall the action, to draw it out, to make the characters more human, more relatable has a sort of polarizing effect. You’re either going to see George as human, as a guy up against insurmountable odds in an unimaginable situation and you’re going to start routing for him. Or, you’re going to see this as a sign of weakness. Either way, you’re taken out of the moment.
As the group tries to shake it off, hunkered down in an relatively secure office, Max (Kenny Doughty) waxes poetic about his music and how, if he gets out of this, he’ll stick to his guitar.
Of course, Max doesn’t make it. In fact, his fate is much worse than that. Well, the fate of all of them is much, much worse.
From a viewer’s perspective Asylum Blackout offers many contradictory experiences. Director Alexandre Courtès chooses to show some exceptionally visually disturbing violence. Viewers with weak stomachs may find themselves wincing in pain as appendages are manipulated in unsavory ways, organs are spilled on the floor, bodies are indiscriminately beaten and befouled. And then there are scenes where nothing is shown and Courtès leaves the viewer to their own worst imagination as some actor is screaming and moaning offscreen. My feeling has always been that if you notice it, it’s probably not a good thing.
Asylum Blackout wraps with an ending that begs more questions than it answers, leaving many viewers to wonder: WTF just happened?
The bottom line is this: Asylum Blackout is stylish and well-produced with a polished soundtrack and score making it a highly watchable Saturday afternoon horror flick. Rupert Evans is one to watch.