Look, Hollywood, just because you like trick endings doesn't mean we all like trick endings. It also doesn't mean that folks who do like trick endings don't like them in every picture. Personally, I’ve really grown tired with trick endings. It isn’t that I don’t like then because, frankly, I do. I think most of us do. It's just that most of them aren’t done all that well any longer. As a matter of fact, once you know you’re trapped inside a motion picture that undoubtedly will have a trick ending (the first giveaway is that you can tell one’s coming), then you begin w-a-t-c-h-i-n-g the film yet you stop watching the story. You find yourself glancing at shadows. You listening for verbal clues to secret identities or dropped Easter eggs. You’re seeing that body over in the corner of the screen, and you’re wondering, “Hey, why is it the director never shows me who that dead guy is over there?” At that point, it’s stopped being a legitimately entertaining experience and started being an exercise in cognitive reasoning … and that’s not the reason I spun the disc in the first place!
(NOTE: the following review will contain spoilers solely necessary for the discussion of character and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I suggest you skip down to the last paragraph for my final assessment. If, however, you’re comfortable with a few hints of ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
George (played nicely by the reliable Rupert Evans) is a down-on-his-luck musician who – in order to make ends meet – takes a job as ‘chef’ at the local insane asylum. (Where did he get such a romantic background and why is it he can only find a job cooking at a virtual prison? Ah, ah, ah! Don’t start looking so closely so soon, viewer!) In order to make his existence a bit more palatable, he somehow manages to have all of the members of his band also hired at the said institution. (Wait a minute … how exactly does that happen? Ah, ah, ah! I warned you about thinking too much about the plot!) But before you can say ‘twaddle,’ a freak electric storm knocks out all power to the normally secured building (AND the back-up generators?!?!), and George and his friends are left locked behind bars with time running out on their own sanity as the inmates seize control! (Well, how in the Sam Hill is that even remotely … FOR THE LAST TIME, DIDN’T I WARN YOU TO STOP THINKING ABOUT IT?!?!)
ASYLUM BLACKOUT didn’t make much sense from the get-go, but, to its strengths, it’s certainly grounded in some solid work by all the players, a wonderfully moody atmosphere complete with all of the usual ‘locked box’ scenarios, and some fine dark’n’gritty filmmaking. Were that enough, I’d probably be willing to give it more than a respectable two-and-one-half stars (most of which is solely for some solid technical and acting prowess); but, sadly, all of it revolves around a central conceit of the trick ending. I couldn’t tell you exactly when I started to suspect exactly “What” was going on – it’s fairly predictable as a trick ending, I might add – though, based on my description of the plot, methinks you can tell it was early on.
Narratively, it is structured very well. It’s a tidy 90 minutes, broken into clear thirds like a classic three-act play. The first 30 minutes is set-up of all the players; the second 30 is when the black-out occurs and everything goes downhill fast; while the final 30 clearly begins pointing toward the ruse you’ll probably see coming. Suffice it to say, folks aren’t exactly what they seem … but the critical failure of the particular subterfuge of S. Craig Zahler and Jerome Fansten’s script is that, by the final third, there’s no room left for subtlety. What should play out as mind games end up being something fairly close to torture porn – a plot device used way too frequently in horror films these days.
To further beat the dead horse, the dodge they use makes little sense to the chronology of the film: the final moments are a book-ended revisitation of the picture’s opening segment, forcing you – the viewer – to suddenly realize what you may have just seen may, in fact, NOT be what you just saw. While others might find this ‘genius’ or ‘groundbreaking,’ I found it more than a bit fraudulent.
MODESTLY RECOMMENDED. It’s probably a one-off picture for most people (meaning it’s worth a single viewing). The ultimate problem with ASYLUM BLACKOUT isn’t in its performances or execution; rather, it’s in its conception. Given the nature of the story – think of a really good episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ that went too far – is that once you know the ending, you have to re-evaluate everything you’ve seen heading up to it. When you look too closely at the seams, then suddenly you realize you’re W-A-T-C-H-I-N-G a movie instead of being immersed in one – the way you are a really good book. Instead of enjoying it, you realize that you’ve been duped – and not in a good way – only now you’ve wasted the last 90 minutes and can’t get ‘em back … which is kinda/sorta like what happens to George.