“Ultimately a crowded and unoriginal disappointment.”
This movie was originally announced in 2011 as Backmask, was retitled as the intriguingly monikered Exeter and has now appeared (from StudioCanal releasing) under the far less interesting title of The Asylum. In online adverts it’s described as “taboo-breaking” and “terrifying”, and it comes with a certain lustre as it is the latest film (and the first one based on a story he devised) from director Marcus Nispel. Nispel, for those of you who don’t know, is the multi award-winning creative force behind countless music clips who made the move into movies in 2003 with the surprisingly good remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, his career has consisted of directing a remake of Frankenstein, the remake of the Norwegian movie Pathfinder, the successful remake of Friday the 13th and the remake of Conan the Barbarian. Can you see a common thread there? The over-riding thread that runs through Nispel’s career can be summed up by the word “remake” and in the end, it’s this that is The Asylum’s main problem: it plays like a remake of a movie whose original you’ve forgotten you seen.
It’s not that there’s anything specifically bad about The Asylum: the acting is passable, the cast mostly easy on the eye, the camerawork is clean and the images have depth (and it wins brownie points for not being another boring ‘found footage’ movie), the set design is grimly effective, the editing is taut and the special effects good. Nispel, for his part, can certainly orchestrate a scene and put together a good jump or two, and there are occasional brief moments of levity and smartness (the DIY exorcism clips from YouTube for example). The problem is that, in general, you’ve seen it all before. The Asylum’s story and script read like a by-the-numbers rewrite of all the best bits from all the good and mediocre movies you’ve ever seen. There are no surprises here, and nothing new to delight even the easiest to please horror fan; everything just feels terribly familiar, as though hundreds of other movies have been put in a blender and smooshed together without regard to originality or creativity or wit. Character’s motivations are clichéd, the dialogue is mostly dull and sometimes lumpen, the soundtrack loud but forgettable, and it trots out a perspective on religion that again has been over-used, and that here at least, is undercooked.
Perhaps more damaging is The Asylum’s uneasily direct resemblance to other films, with whole scenes sometimes feeling like they’ve been lifted and dropped in with only the barest changes made from the original. There are clear references to The Exorcist (forgivable perhaps – you can’t make an exorcism movie without directly acknowledging the granddaddy of them all, in this case with a clear but pointless homage to the spider walk scene) and also to a host of other, often superior, movies including Brain Dead, Session 9, Demons and Demons 2, Night of the Demons (and its ill-advised remake), Grave Encounters and its (also ill-advised) sequel. Even Point Break is brought to mind, and they’re all here vying for attention in what’s ultimately a crowded and unoriginal disappointment.
In the end though, the worst thing to say about The Asylum is that it’s boring, and for a horror movie there’s probably no greater sin.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Director: Marcus Nispel.
Starring: Stephen Lang, Kelly Blatz, Brittany Curan, Brett Dier
Release date (UK): On DVD and Blu-ray 4 May 2015
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