Haunted houses. Haunted hotels. Sleepaway camps. Small town. Rural hillside/country. There are quite a few archetypal settings for horror movies and asylums are another popular favorite. Unfortunately for the movie Asylum, it’s already working within the shadow of the far superior asylum psychological horror movie, Session 9. Replete with a story rooted in characterization, a chilling atmosphere, and good performances, Session 9 is a classic of the asylum set movies. Asylum will be forgotten as soon as I’m done typing this review.

There are no characters in this movie, but rather a collection of Breakfast Club rejects: dillweed creepy guy, promiscuous girl, brooding guy, sleazy lothario, virginal nerdy guy, likeable POV girl, and assorted red shirts (the characters from Star Trek: The Original Series who were usually killed off). These college freshmen are assigned to the brand new, yet not quite working right, creepy college dorm built on an Indian burial ground, I mean, mental asylum. From here, they are stalked by the ghost of the doctor who ran the asylum with his torturous ways. In other words, he’s a less imaginative version of Freddy Krueger (from the Nightmare on Elm Street series).

“I can cure you. Give me your pain.” –Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston)

Pain is real, especially and particularly to the person experiencing it. Suffering is individualized, experienced alone. Pain is theirs to deal with. While suffering can ultimately be meaningful, if you let it, that’s not something you want to tell someone who’s experiencing pain.

The source of the pain for the (collection of walking clichés we’ll charitably call) characters in Asylum was how they’d become locked into these false ideas of themselves. All of their lives they had been told they were stupid, fat, or otherwise not good enough. They had been abused to the point where they were afraid to trust, thus becoming trapped behind their walls, defenses too high to let anyone in. At the same time, their souls desperately cry out to be known for who they really are.

“Give me your suffering.” –Dr. Burke

They are guilty of what many of us are guilty of: carrying around pain we don’t have to. Some choose ways of “numbing you to the truth” rather than deal with their issues. While his diagnosis was correct, (“guilt is your disease”), Dr. Burke’s methods of removing that pain left a little to be desired.

“I’m a good doctor. Do you believe that?” –Dr. Burke

A better doctor might suggest a different kind of unconventional methods. He might offer himself up as an example, saying that we could find redemption in forgiveness, a forgiveness that needs to start with ourselves, then to our parents and those others who have hurt us.

Granted, this was directed by David R. Ellis, who brought us Snakes on a Plane, but Asylum didn’t even have that brand of “so bad it’s good” charm about it. What most disappointed me was that there was actually some potential in this movie. Using his victims’ pain and insecurity against them has subtext to be explored within the characters, but the filmmakers opt to reduce Asylum to a mere slasher flick. And the movie doesn’t try to be anything deeper than it presents itself: an hour and a half of cheap thrills.

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