DVD REVIEW: SANATORIUM / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BRANT SERSEN / SCREENPLAY: BRANT SERSEN / STARRING: DON FANELLI, MEGAN NEURINGER, JUSTIN PURNELL, KATE RILEY, BEN RODGERS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It seems as if we now have to face the unpalatable truth that ‘found footage’ films will probably forevermore be a small part of our cinematic diet. Of course, it’s not all bad news – it is, after all, the genre that’s given us Chronicle, Cloverfield and Blair Witch, which pretty much started it all off in 1999. It’s also gifted us a lot of cheap and nasty twaddle too; there’s no escaping the constant stream of horrible horrors which slip onto our supermarket shelves week after week, somewhere between the broccoli and the cat food. ‘Found footage’ at least gives people with a nice camera but next to no money the chance to string something resembling a movie together, for better or for worse - and now again something quite good clambers out of the rubble and deserves a bit more acclaim that yer average Wrong House, Wrong Room or Wrong Breakfast Cereal. Case in point: Sanatorium.
However, it doesn’t start too promisingly. A gang of too-full-of-themselves filmmakers – they’re responsible for the apparently phenomenally popular TV series ‘Ghost Trackers’ – are on their way to seek out supernatural shenanigans at the long-abandoned Hillcrest Sanatorium, a facility where an insane inmate murdered three children in 1955. They’re a bouncy and slightly irritating bunch and they happily set up their spook-searching paraphernalia amongst the crumbling corridors and dusty debris, waving torches about in the darkness and waiting for signs of life from the dead.
So far, so what? We’ve seen all this before and it never ends well. But Sanatorium actually succeeds in ramping up some genuine tension not only by the usual gradual escalation of unearthly goings-on but by actually doing it with some style, imagination and wit. For once, the ‘found footage’ gimmick isn’t utterly intrusive and hokily contrived, and by the time the first eerie shadow appears on a wall and the disembodied voices start gibbering, we’ve pretty much forgotten this isn’t a ‘traditional’ movie at all. The location helps enormously, of course; the Sanatorium itself - dark rooms, crumbling paintwork, abandoned gurneys and wheelchairs – is more than enough to put the willies up the audience before everything goes pear-shaped and the girls start screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God” in the approved and required manner of the found footage feature. The last fifteen minutes or so are pretty hair-raising even if a little voice in the back of our minds is telling us that this is really nothing new and that we’re being played like cheap banjos.
But, absolutely contrary to any and all expectations, Sanatorium just works. Director/writer Sersen knows exactly which buttons to press to achieve the desired result and he handles the inevitable clichés and shock-jumps with a deftness and sophistication we’re just not used to from this type of cheapie. This is one Sanatorium you really won’t mind paying a visit – but you’ll probably want to put the lights on when you leave... just in case...