Sony // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // July 15th, 2008
"Come on! Let me break off a piece of the crazy for you!"
Prison Break meets Cannibal Holocaust in writer/director Jeff Buhler's Insanitarium.
When his sister is committed to a mental hospital, Jack (Jesse Metcalfe, Desperate Housewives), worried for his sister's welfare, hatches a plan to break her out.
By convincing the authorities that he too is mentally unstable, Jack is able to get himself committed and thus one step closer to his sister. Once inside, Jack finds that escape is nigh on impossible, and the resident doctor (Peter Storemare, Constantine) is far from sane himself and is conducting bizarre experiments on the inmates. Following a course of Orpheum, a drug he has been developing, Dr. Gianetti's patients are starting to show cannibalistic tendencies.
Before long all hell breaks loose, and Jack must locate his sister and escape the asylum in one piece.
Those with a low threshold for gore may want to avoid Insanitarium, Jeff Buhler's debut feature where everything, from animal carnage to ice pick lobotomies, is on the menu. With scenes depicting self-mutilation appearing within the film's opening minutes, Buhler sets his stall out early, offering a warning for the squeamish as much as a statement of intent for gorehounds and proceeds to gradually up the ante from there.
Keeping plot and character development to a minimum, Buhler has crafted a purely visceral experience, where exposition is jettisoned in favor of producing a fast-paced fight for survival. With a thrifty 40 minutes set aside for both story and character setups, Insanitarium doesn't have time to drag its heels. While this results in a few key plot elements being oversimplified (Jack's plan seems to go a little too smoothly for my liking), there's no question it helps the movie flow, with very few bumps along the way.
Buhler's direction reveals a natural talent for horror, which sees him frequently refrain from employing genre clichés that cripple so many debut features. Visually, whether intentional or not, a number of scenes are reminiscent of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, where sterile hospital wards become the setting for brutal, gore-soaked showdowns; though Buhler abstains from the more fantastical elements of Fulci's work. When Insanitarium introduces cannibals to its Prison Break storyline, Buhler oversees a slight, but significant change in the movie's makeup. Having established the villains of the film early on and acknowledged the fact that they must be overcome before escape from the cannibal-filled halls of the asylum will become possible, the film takes on an almost videogame-like structure, with our heroes racing for the tools or information required to move onto the next set piece. Certainly not intended as a criticism, it brought back memories of the Silent Hill and Resident Evil videogames, which have frequently proved to be far more effective at invoking scares than the vast majority of recent horror movies.
With a film so consistently reliant on special effects and makeup work to sell the violence on show, Insanitarium would fall flat if the effects team were not up to the job. It's good news then that the gore on offer here is of a high quality, with severed limbs, impalements, and decapitations, all handled more than competently.
Though the cast in general offers decent performances, which are a step or two up from your average straight-to-DVD horror, there are three performances that standout. Jesse Metcalfe handles himself admirably in the starring role as Jack. Though hardly award-winning, his performance nonetheless helps add depth to his character that the script otherwise lacked. While Peter Storemare commands viewers' attention with his portrayal of scientist gone mad Dr. Gianetti, it's Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who steals the show in his role as Hawthorne, the resident Hannibal Lecter, each glare, every line, being delivered with relish.
At a little over 7 minutes apiece, the two "Inside the Asylum" featurettes are really too brief to offer any real insight into the film. They are not without value however. The interview with Jesse Metcalfe allows you, and any friends watching, the opportunity to count how many times Jesse says the line "you know?" There's no prize for getting the right answer; it's just for fun, you know?
The 1.85:1 transfer is certainly impressive with sharp images, high detail and brilliant colors, with even darker scenes maintaining good detail levels.
A minor point, but one that should still be addressed, is the fact that at the end of the day Insanitarium is a fairly shallow experience. Remove the action and gore, and all you're left with is a Prison Break knockoff. Thankfully, the action and gore are present, and with Buhler's assured guidance, the film's flaws are rendered unimportant.
Undemanding but hugely entertaining, Insanitarium has enough to recommend it to fans of gore-soaked horror.
Review content copyright © 2008 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Thai)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Bonus Digital Copy of the Film
* Deleted Scenes
* "Inside the Asylum: Jesse Metcalfe and Jeff Buhler" Featurette
* "Inside the Asylum: The Patients" Featurette
* Storyboard Gallery