Asylum Of Darkness is a long film. Okay, when there are behemoths way beyond two hours choking up valuable screening slots at your local multiplex, 117 minutes for an independent horror may not seem excessive. But when you finally reach the end of Asylum Of Darkness you’ll check your watch, and then check it again as you’ll be convinced you’ve spent longer in the company of this meandering, confused-by-design horror mystery.
Dwight (Baldasare) is a mental patient who, as you may suspect, believes he has been wrongly incarcerated. Subjected to mind-altering treatments and feeling persecuted by the strange, is-he-really-a doctor Dr. Shaker (Hatch), who occasionally appears without a face, Dwight escapes only to discover that life on the outside is even weirder.
Frustratingly surreal, Asylum Of Darkness feels akin to a series of disjointed, unconnected horror sketches accompanied by an endlessly overbearing soundtrack that refuses to allow you a moment to try and process what you’re watching. There is no doubt that writer, director and composer Jay Woelfel is a bold filmmaker, and there are moments in his creation that nostalgically reference the cinematic themes popular in films from the ‘70s and ‘80s. But instead of generating a retro-appeal that draws in an audience, Woelfel keeps his public firmly at arm’s length through a reluctance to allow even a modicum of empathy to be generated. So fiercely uncooperative is the narrative that it wilfully refuses to allow any engagement from the viewer, and as such you slowly lose the will to try.
The performances are very much in keeping with the plot, being wildly inconsistent – likely by design – and simply add to the confusion. Baldasare at least seems to be enjoying himself, and given he is on screen for virtually the full running time, he should be. Hatch appears truly baffled, as if he read the script, didn’t fully understand it but had a free week in his diary so, what the hell? Only Amanda Howell as wife / accomplice Ellen gives the impression of being fully aware what is going on, and hers is a performance in the best tradition of giallo.
It’s possible that Asylum Of Darkness is actually a clever homage to cinema of a bygone age, a tribute to a style of filmmaking no longer fashionable and a film that in years to come will be regarded with respectful fondness. Possible, but very, very unlikely.
ASYLUM OF DARKNESS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JAY WOELFEL / STARRING: NICK BALDASARE, RICHARD HATCH, AMANDA HOWELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (USA); UK RELEASE DATE TBA