Review: The Lost Episode / Cert: 18 / Director: Michael Rooker / Screenplay: Joe Nelms, Sue Bailey / Starring: Hayleigh Duff, Beverley Mitchell, Michael Rooker / Release Date: Out Now
Michael Rooker’s directorial debut leaves a lot to be desired. Suffering from awful cinematography, diabolical acting, poor scriptwriting and what feels like a shoestring budget, it’s a wonder The Lost Episode ever made its DVD release.
The plot follows a group of teens who arrive at the infamous mental asylum of Pennhurst (on a dare presumably) and the leader of this dreary bunch recounts a horror tale of an ill-fated camera crew that also came to Pennhurst a year or so ago. The narrative proceeds to follow the crew as they work their way through a series of spooky locations and increasingly bizarre, nonsensical encounters to their inevitable meeting with The Lost Episode’s big bad, Doctor Death, played by Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead). Doctor Death is nothing if not resourceful and kills each character in varied and mostly entertaining ways.
Setting The Lost Episode at the state school and hospital of Pennsylvania’s Pennhurst is a bold move by Rooker. The real Pennhurst became synonymous with abuse and neglect and eventually closed. Its very name having seeped into the public consciousness as bad mojo and would on the face of it seem like an ideal choice to stage Rooker’s drama. And in fairness to Rooker, he doesn’t pass judgment on the former patients. He actually goes out of his way to highlight the abusive practises that took place there, if only for the purpose of dramatic narrative. He also skilfully steers the film clear of any social commentary. Which is a shame, at least then The Lost Episode might have served as an engaging slice of controversy.
Right from the start, The Lost Episode runs into trouble. The tag line on the cover reads: Years after its closure, a TV crew returned to the most haunted asylum in America. Long after their disappearance, their footage has been found...
So based on that blurb one would assume the film to be an entry in the found footage subgenre of horror, something along the lines of Blair Witch Project, Rec, or Grave Encounters. Well, one would be wrong. There’s very little found footage in the film at all; The Lost Episode relies on conventional ways of telling a story. A strong enough departure to make this reviewer reach for the DVD case to make sure he’d read it right in the first place.
Bad marketing aside, The Lost Episode goes on to suffer from terrible lighting, possibly to create the ambiance Rooker felt he needed for this ghost/slasher yarn. It doesn’t work. Scenes are either too dark or are lit up like the 4th of July. Not that there’s much to go on, anyway. Characters are flat, lacking back-story or dimension, consequently their deaths mean nothing other than to coax a visceral reaction from the audience – Rooker succeeds in this part. The acting is shoddy at best, with the only noteworthy performance coming from Michael Rooker, even then it just doesn’t sit well.
At least The Lost Episode gets the gore right. Genitalia extraction and the trans-orbital lobotomy are two of our favourites, but sadly these moments are few and far between.
It’s a poor first outing for Rooker in the director’s chair. The film’s direction and focus are a hopeless tangled mess and ultimately becomes an exercise in frustration and disappointment. All from a man capable of so much more.