Asylum Seekers (2009)

Description (from asylumseekersmovie.com):
Work, family, relationships, deadlines, terrorism, information overload… When Modern Life is getting crazier and crazier, day by day, who wouldn’t think about getting out? Leaving it all behind? Wouldn’t that be the only sane response to this mad world? Asylum Seekers is about escapism, about feeling the pressure and deciding on a radical solution. Our six characters can’t take their various stresses any more and are heading for the door marked EXIT. It leads to a deluxe, exclusive, luxuriously-appointed mental asylum, an adult funfair where they can let it all go and be waited on hand and foot for the rest of their carefree lives. Or so it seems… The first twist is that there are limited places. Only one free bed remains. The competition is on. And there are many other surprises lying in wait for the unwary, would-be-insane patient… The ride out of the world they know has only just begun!

Major Cast:
Pepper Binkley as Maud, Bill Daws as Alan, Daniel Irizarry as Dr. Raby, Stella Maeve as Alice, Camille O’Sullivan as Miranda, Lee Wilkof as Paul, Judith Hawking as Nurse Milly, Joseph McKenna as Mickey, Ken Jennings as Minnie

Special Features:
None (Screener Copy)

Written by Rania Ajami and Jake Pilikian
Directed by Rania Ajami

In my time on this Earth I have come to realize that I like weird stuff.  When it comes to music, I can’t stand the radio ‘cause everything is so plain.  I was incredibly surprised when System of a Down actually got popular, because if you go beyond their radio singles, they are a really odd band, plus: I liked their music.  As far as movies, I can deal with normal Hollywood fare (most of the time), but I’d much rather be watching something different… that’s a big part of why I started reviewing low and no-budget movies.  When you make a movie for no money, you can’t do normal – you can’t afford to.

ASYLUM SEEKERS obviously falls into the “low,” not the “no” budget category.  As a matter of fact, it looks beautiful and could pass as a big budget feature, if it weren’t for the fact that there are no “names” in the flick.  It was shot on the RED camera, a true watershed innovation for the indie filmmaker.  Sure, it’s not cheap (anywhere from $12K to $60K), but compared to an Arriflex (which can easily be in the $100K+ range, plus the price for film) it is a bargain.  The RED can easily make an indie film as beautiful as any big-budget Hollywood affair (see CHOP for an example), and it does so on AS.

Other than the fact that there are no “names” in AS, the other factor that gives away that it is NOT a big budget affair is the fact that it’s incredibly weird.  Way too weird for most of Hollywood.  The only real comparisons I can think of are the films of Terry Gilliam, the less-mainstream examples like BRAZIL or THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS.  AS seems like a hybrid of the idiosyncrasy of Terry Gilliam’s vision with the kinetic storytelling of early Guy Ritchie; the film is not just weirdness, it is weirdness with style.

AS introduces us to a laundry list of psychos, all vying for the last open bed in an asylum that could have come straight out of BRAZIL.  It is a competition hosted by the all-powerful Dr. Beard to see who deserves admission to the craziest of crazy houses.  The film is full of contradictions – like Dr. Raby, the virgin nymphomaniac – and these contradictions set the tone for the entire story.  Nothing will be what it seems, everything has duality to its meaning.

AS is not a film for everyone, by far.  If you like the average Hollywood fare, and have no idea who this Terry Gilliam guy is… well, what are you doing here reading this?  But seriously, this will not be the film for you.  AS is a challenging, meandering dark comedy that doesn’t get to the point very quickly, it takes the scenic route.  Things are not the easiest to follow or understand at times, but at all times it is a funny ride.  AS was one of the first films in a long time that I have reviewed that actually made me laugh out loud, not once but multiple times.  Weird, yes, but really damned funny in its weirdness.

As I previously mentioned, the video quality provided by the RED makes AS visually gorgeous, but the innovative production design, the great lighting, and awesome costuming accent the visuals.  On the technical side of things, AS is just a really well made film.  There’s not much bad I can say about it.  It also excels because of Ajami’s direction; the characters are over the top caricatures of people, which fit perfectly into the over the top caricature of reality that AS builds.  Ajami gets great performances from all of her actors; there was not one that I felt was weak.  Even the little girl’s (not going to explain her for lack of spoiling something fun) performance is impressive, and most filmmakers will tell you that if you want to make a low-budget movie and make it good, to avoid casting children or animals.

I only had a few issues at all with AS.  First off, it is too weird for most, and probably will not ever get the recognition it deserves because of this fact.  Secondly, there were some parts of the flick that meandered a bit too much, I felt it could have been trimmed up a bit here and there and be more effective.  And lastly, my biggest issue (and this is not fault of the filmmakers themselves, I would venture to bet) is the packaging chosen for the DVD.  The image that was selected for the poster/cover would give the average consumer the impression that AS was more akin to SAW than anything else; out of all of the visually interesting images within the film (and there were many to choose from), I felt that this was probably the worst choice that could have been made.  It will turn off comedy fans, thinking that this is a horror, and it will piss off horror fans, who would pick up this flick to find out it is a comedy!  Yes, if you read the back of the DVD it is very obvious what AS is, but unfortunately lots and lots of people don’t read, they just go by the picture on the front.

Overall, I was really impressed with AS.  It was weird, it was funny, it was beautiful, it was challenging, and it was different.  Too bad that most people won’t take the time to watch a weird, funny, beautiful, challenging and different film like this.  I really enjoyed AS, but that’s because I like weird stuff.  If you are like me, seek out AS.  It’s a fun ride.

Overall 8 / 10

AS on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1132135/

AS for sale: http://www.amazon.com/Asylum-Seekers-Pepper-Binkley/dp/B00558Z4VM

AS site: http://www.asylumseekersmovie.com

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