Director: Alexandre Courtes
Starring: Rupert Evans, Dave Legeno, Anna Skellern
Asylum Blackout (or The Incident in France) is one of those films that is difficult to enjoy. Not because it’s a horrible film (though it does have its problems—we’ll get to that), but because of the disturbing nature of the film’s violence. Is it as disturbing as films such as A Serbian Film and Martyrs? That is incredibly difficult to say whether its violence surpasses that of those other films. A Serbian Film was disgusting as well as disturbing, as was Martyrs, though it definitely drew out its violence and torture scenes to a more painful degree. So, where does Asylum Blackout place?
Before we venture further, let’s at least establish the basic premise of the film. Set in 1989, Asylum Blackout centers on George, Max and Ricky, three wannabe musicians working in an asylum cafeteria. When a sudden blackout knocks out all the power, the shoestring staff of the asylum must defend themselves from the patients, who seem to have gone off their medications at the behest of Harry Green, a particularly disturbed individual with an unsettling fascination with George. What follows is a disturbing trip down the proverbial rabbit hole, chock full of dismemberment, immolation, and impalement, among other things.
The atmosphere of the whole film is definitely one of its strongest features. The director knows how to use shadows and well-framed shots to create a sense of disconnect and dread. For example, the film begins with a slow dolly-in of the asylum kitchen.
And the film ends with an eerily similar shot, though something about it—perhaps it’s the white walls as well as the eerily distorted rock song in the background— fills the viewer with unease (to delve any further into why this is would spoil a lot of the film).
There’s also a very quiet portion where the film slowly fades between images of the asylum riot aftermath. The whole sequence serves as a brief though unnerving breather from the intense violence that pervades the film.
That said, the violence and gore is top-notch here. Every shot of gore is effective and terrifying to look at.
The ending, though quite confusing after a first viewing, is actually an interesting and unnerving way to end the film. It adds ambiguity to the events of the film, and casts some doubt about what events actually happened, and what events were fear-induced hallucinations. Granted, the final scene is a tad over-the-top, but it’s still effective in creating a sense of unease that stays with the audience long after the credits finish rolling.
Unfortunately, not everything in this film is effective. Whoever was the “sound guy” for this film should be fired, especially for his choices of screams. Out of all the screams he had to choose from, these were the ones he thought were effective? There is a moment where a door slams on an inmate’s hand, and the Wilhelm scream is clearly audible. The fastest way to take someone out of a film is to use a stock scream that has become a joke from overuse in movies.
The premise of the film is quite ridiculous, too, if one really thinks about it. There’s a sequence when George calls the police and tells them what’s going on, including all of the violent actions, and the 911 operator’s response is that no officer can make it to the place until about an hour later. This is ridiculous and incredibly hard to buy. If something like this happens, especially with how violent the patients have become, it should be the top priority to contain the threat. What if these people find a way to escape? Heck, even if they don’t, the fact that they are murdering the staff should be motivation enough to contain the threat. This is negligence on the police’s part, and if this were to actually happen, there would be intense legal ramifications for their inaction.
Furthermore, in an asylum filled with this many dangerous patients, one would assume that the staff would consist of much more than four guards and five cooks. Also, one would think that the people in charge of medicating the patients would actually check to make sure the patients had actually swallowed their pills right then and there rather than just passing the pills and hoping that the patients follow the honor system. It wouldn’t be difficult, either; just have the patients swallow their pills, then have them open their mouths and move their tongues to make sure the pills are gone. I worked for an agency that did this exact thing when passing pills, so why wouldn’t they do that here? I guess that would mean completely derailing the plot.
Also, for a film about a group of rockers, there’s not one scene of them actually playing music together. There’s a scene that’s referenced and even built up, but the film immediately cuts to right after the concert. Showing a scene like the one the writer, editor, and/or director chose to omit would have made caring about the three characters that much easier to do. Showing a band playing together, though somewhat of a cheap shortcut for character development, could establish their friendship a lot better than any awkward bits of expository dialogue ever could.
In the end, Asylum Blackout is a film that, despite its problems, creates a horrifying scenario with its gore and creepy atmosphere. Just don’t take its premise too seriously or expect too much realism.
Final Score: 5/10