Review: The Asylum Tapes
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The Asylum Tapes is a bit of footage that we wished had never been found...
In August 2012 Ian Ford set out to review The Aslyum Tapes on his laptop from a Starbucks in Holborn. He disappeared after ordering a Tall Latte with sprinkles and his body was never found, but, from a discovered pen drive, this is the verdict of his final hours...
Ok, so that lame intro has probably been done before to mock yet another “found footage” film, but that just underlines the point that people keep bloody making them. Enough already! It may be cheap, but it’s not big or clever, and hasn’t been since The Blair Witch Project some 13 years ago.
It’s especially annoying here, as the location is a real insane asylum, which is a fascinating and undeniably creepy card to play with. Yet because this is a fictional film masquerading as found footage, the potential phoniness of the interactions constantly chips away at the tension. Whether it’s a character stumbling across a doll with its head cut-off or an entire desecrated chapel, we can only assume these are the inventions of the filmmaker rather than the legacy of real McCoy lunacy. Oh, and did I mention Oliver Stone pops up as himself at the beginning?
The Asylum Tapes (known as Greystone Park in the US) is the debut feature from Sean Stone, Oliver’s son, and the old master himself gives his filmic blessing by telling a ghost story to kick-off proceedings at a dinner party. Despite this, the film is in no way of elder-Stone quality, even if a lot of the motifs – jump-cutting, inter-splicing archive footage – are recognisable influences from the Academy Award winner. These arbitrary insertions further undermine the legitimacy of it being found footage, of course, but you’ve heard enough of these complaints, so from here on in we’ll deal with the film on its own terms.
Sean stars as himself, together with Alexander Wraith (co-writer) and Antonella Lentini, also notionally playing themselves. All three are NYU film students, desperate to seek something outside of civilisation’s comforts, but also breaking into Greystone Psychiatric facility with different motivations. Where Sean is the skeptic out to be convinced, and Antonella the beautiful girl along for the thrill of the ride, Alexander is the true believer; he’s already been to the abandoned asylum once and wants to prove on camera the warped legacy of lobotomies and shock-treatments. Alexander is an unsettling presence even in the comfort of suburbia. In an early scene when they’re merely driving into New Jersey, he reveals he’s been at the wheel for an hour without owning a license.
Once inside the fire-ravaged complex, the trio begin to explore the wards, one-by-one, and gradually things become more unsettling. The film is, at heart, a psychological experience. What we see is minimal and up until the very end the viewer is unsure if what they’re seeing is the work of pranksters or something truly supernatural. Most of the shocks come from shadows in doorway or distant sounds, while the deeper sense of dread builds from the clear psychological torment increasingly reeked on our protagonists. These effects are pretty standard, but they are undeniably effective in keeping the viewer on their toes for a decent period.
Alas, the film gradually runs out of steam. The good tricks become worn by repetition – she’s gone missing again, really? He’s mumbling in the corner to himself again, really? – and, even though it is relatively short by feature standards, there just isn’t enough material here to sustain affairs. It’s the same poorly lit rooms over and over. And, as we creep towards the denouement, the small capital built up by keeping the audience guessing is abandoned: we get a tacked-on ending that makes almost no sense.
Sean Stone shows some promise as a film-maker, and The Asylum Tapes is by no means the worst horror release this year (here’s looking at you Creature), but it is rudimentary at best. There’s more shock and entertainment to be found in watching Fox News when Sean converted to Islam earlier this year.
A very short alternate ending, which is only marginally dumber than the one they plumped for.
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