STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
• Behind-the-scenes featurettes
Download the script for Awakenings. Replace every instance of the word “hug” with “stab”.
In this outtake, Stormare does his infamous Bill Plympton face.
Peter Stormare, Jesse Metcalfe, Olivia Munn (!!), Kevin Sussman
Jack (Metcalfe), an angst-filled twentysomething with horrible emo hair, struggles with his depressed sister after the untimely death of their Mother. When his sister attempts suicide, Jack loses her to an impenetrable and sinister mental institution. He quickly sheds his emo hair (hooray!) and feigns insanity to infiltrate the institution (dumb!), discovering that the head of the asylum (Stormare) tests a highly potent drug on his most violent patients that turns them into raving, bloodthirsty savages.
Along the way, he gets to meet Olivia Munn, and stabs something like eleventy billion sick people. But will that be enough stabbings to save his sister and foil the evil doctor’s plan for world domination?
And nobody asked Jesse Metcalfe for an autograph again.
Jesse Metcalfe’s appearance in Insanitarium speaks volumes for the quality of the film. The glut of mediocre television dramas all seem to be dumping hordes of starlings like Metcalfe into terrible horror films (Pulse, Shutter, Captivity), and Insanitarium doesn’t buck the trend. It’s a bafflingly stupid and poorly written mess, and although it has a few fun moments and even some clever and gruesome surprises, it’s not a very noteworthy addition to the pseudozombie genre.
I say “pseudozombie” because Insanitarium’s bloodthirsty madmen are clearly zombies-but-not-zombies. They run, plan, and even work in teams, but the ravenous, cannibalistic creatures on display work in a similar fashion to 28 Days Later‘s Rage virus victims, or, even more accurately, The Signal‘s victims. Unfortunately, Insanitarium isn’t nearly as good as either of those films.
Insanitarium has violence and spectacle in spades, but it doesn’t have a very good script. During the first act, there’s a terrible inciting moment that really sets a bad precedent for the rest of the film: In the hopes that he’ll be taken in by the police and placed in the same mental hospital as his sister, Jack runs shirtless down the street as he stabs himself repeatedly in the chest. The police show up, shove a tranquilizer needle in his buttock, and bring him straight to the insanitarium. I can almost forgive Jack’s terrible character decision, as he’s supposed to have a family history of mental illness, but the almost unfathomably dumb police decision to “just take him to the Insanitarium! They’ll know what to do!” just feels insulting. That Jack doesn’t exhibit any real mental instability in the rest of the film not only betrays the character, but is a missed opportunity.
The rest of the first act feels like a lifeless exercise in horror, as Jack meets a host of stereotypically crazy inmates, and slowly discovers the doctor’s plan to rehabilitate dangerous criminals by destroying their higher bran functions with a dangerous chemical. He meets a sympathetic nurse (Attack of the Show‘s Olivia Munn) and a silly-crazy sidekick (Sussman), and plots to escape with his sister. As missing patients reappear as violent automatons, the asylum community breaks down, leading to a reasonably frenetic third act escape.
12:23:20 Mar 1986
McRib Testing Facility 879/Rm 486
There has been another incident.
This leads me to Insanitarium‘s only strength- the third act violence. It’s a mindless, derivative, splashy romp through a poorly lit medical facility, but there’s just… so… much… stabbing. I can’t stress this enough: dozens of humans get stabbed in the third act of this film. Metcalfe hacks his way through a sea of the mentally disabled like an offensive version of Moses. It’s not enough to redeem anything, but it’s still pretty fun to watch.
The cast really isn’t that bad; with a punched-up script and a better director, Insanitarium might have been some campy fun. Stormare does a great Stormare impression as the creepy doctor, and Olivia Munn has some fun as the hero nurse. Metcalfe brings along his hunky gardener shtick to the asylum, and is really little more than a stand in, but his character is so poorly written anyway that a better actor wouldn’t have added much.
In the end, Insanitarium is a bland addition to the genre, and while it has some fun third act surprises, it drops the ball with weak characters and bad writing.
The transfer looks good, and the sound is a robust Dolby 3/2.1. Bonus features include a wide host of horror trailers, and a duo of featurettes: “Inside The Asylum: Jesse Metcalfe and Jeff Buhler” and “Inside the Asylum: The Patients”. Storyboards are also available.
The box art features a bloody syringe, and isn’t too shabby.