Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dallas IFF 2013 Review: SANITARIUM - Damon's Take

Directed by: Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez and Kerry Valderama
Written by: Crystal Bratton, Scott Marcano, Bryan Ortiz, and Kerry Valderama
Starring: Loud Diamond Phillips, John Glover, Robert Englund, David Mazouz, and Michael McDowell.
Synopsis: Three "horror" stories about patients in a mental hospital and how they ended up there. 

Oh sweet gods of movies, why have thou forsaken us? We ask not much in return for our devotion to your words and parables told through prophets all over the planet, but in times like these, it really feels as if you guys have left us out in the cold. Maybe we are supposed to find these trying times as some sort of palette clenser. If everything we see is great, how will we truly appreciate something that’s good. That has to be it. Right?

On April 12th, 2013, was one of DIFF’s Midnight Specials, a section of their programming every year that most look forward to and that is, usually, a letdown. They have had some great stuff in the past, like THE LAST CIRCUS, but most of it is more miss rather than hit. It really shouldn’t be too hard to come up with four or five films to show the wilder side of cinema, but somehow they prove it is every year. Maybe they just need some new blood picking genre films... hint, hint. Anyway, last night’s staggering disappointment concerned a horror anthology film called SANITARIUM. A film that played a week earlier, yet no one warned me in advance. Tsk, tsk.

All of our tales are told about three separate patients in a mental hospital. Malcom McDowell cashed in a paycheck as our narrator and host through the attempted tales of suspense and horror. The first story concerns an artist named Gustav (John Glover) who has been going crazy over his new exhibition involving small, creepy dolls he sculpts and with whom he talks. His business partners are out to make some money but his creations are more than that to him and insanity soon takes over. Then we are taken back to a patient who has been there for years in a catatonic state after someone, or something, traumatized him in a situation involving his abusive widower father and visions of a beastly man in a hoodie. Last, but possibly least, is a professor turned psycho Mayan apocalypse nutjob (Lou Diamond Phillips) in his underground bunker alone. The world may or may not have ended above ground, but he wouldn’t know. And his mind is slipping more and more each day. 

I don’t even know where the hell to begin with this wreck of a film. 

All of the press release materials I’ve seen for the film liken in to uses elements from things like The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, and because SANITARIUM is a horror anthology they are correct. Beyond that there is not much comparison. Those shows had a little fun with their fright. Plenty of tongue-in-cheek references and kooky twists that will leave you giggling and squirming. This film chooses to play it for more scares than crazy, which would be fine with me if it actually has them. 

Everything is just so disjointed and pushed together in a way that just doesn’t make a lot of sense. The three tales don’t have to be connected in any specific way, but even the wrap around was all over the place. First is McDowell introducing us to this character, and our second vignette lead-in is a college student looking for a case to write a paper about. This is the only time we see him and there is no real reference for his need to be there other than looking for the craziest resident. Which is a pretty tame one if you ask me. While on the subject of things that make no sense, our catatonic boy is in the hospital now as an adult, but his story takes place when he was a school boy. There are far too many modern things in there to make sense, most noticeably the 16:9 flatscreen TV his alcoholic father is watching. I know, that is a tad nitpicky, but still...

There are quite a few noticeable actors in the film. Aside from Malcom, we have John Glover who I always fondly recall from GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. He was actually my favorite part of the film, both acting and story wise. He also looks pretty damn cool with short, gray dreadlocks. Robert Englund makes an appearance as does the lovely Lacey Chabert. Then there’s Phillips. Look, I have nothing against the man, but he caused more eye rolling than anything else. Most probably has to do with story and direction, but it was less than interesting. As a friend remarked on leaving, he needs to get a new agent to make better decisions.

The worst thing of all is it’s painfully boring. Nothing really happens the whole time. The horror is not really there. There are aspects of horror but nothing ever really makes it past an entry level foray into the genre. I’m pretty sure the director even knew this, and that’s why he threw in some nudity. As if guys would be nodding off and loosing interest and then, suddenly -- oh, boobs! I’m awake, I’m awake. 

Maybe what our intrepid film gods are trying to tell us is to go home and get some sleep. Plenty of that was happening in the theater last night. 

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