Director: Nimrod Zalmanowitz
Writer: Fred Edison
Producer: Nimrod Zalmanowitz, Joey Azoulai
Stars: Aaron Mathias, Nathan Spiteri, Laura Gilreath, Grace Evans, Jenny Lee Mitchell, T. Boomer Tibbs, Tym Moss
Two aspiring documentarians uncover the legend of Typhoid Mary when they investigate a reportedly haunted mental hospital.
How many haunted asylums are still left in America that have not already been investigated by the various teams of cable television’s umpteen ghost hunting reality shows? Aspiring documentarians Andy and Mark manage to find one more in New York’s Hudson Valley when they begin an investigation into the legend of Typhoid Mary in “Paranormal Asylum.” After Andy’s fiancée Michelle becomes involved in the project, tensions rise, a ghostly possession takes place, an exorcist is called, and supernatural activity of course ensues.
Horror filmdom needs another “found footage” movie about investigating a haunted mental hospital as much as the 405 freeway needs another car during rush hour. Maybe that is why “Paranormal Asylum” decided to be only partially “found footage” and why very little of it actually takes place inside its abandoned asylum, despite the film’s title.
Mary Mallon, a.k.a. Typhoid Mary, was a real person who lived in New York at the turn of the 20th century and who was infamously credited with the illnesses and deaths of the numerous people that she infected. The “true events” that “Paranormal Asylum” was reportedly “inspired by” end with that fact. From there, the screenplay takes several wild creative liberties with Mary’s biography. The extent of Typhoid Mary’s complicity in the actual deaths attributed to her can be debated by historians. But whether she is remembered as villain or victim, making a tragic character even more so with a fictional backstory involving a career as a sex slave and being raised by a pedophile is distasteful regardless.
The production does its best to approach a typical story in an atypical way, but its best is not good enough. Taking a major chunk of the narrative out of the haunted asylum and replacing it with talking heads spouting exposition only affords the cast an opportunity to take rough performances off the rails. An elderly man with a shady connection to the hospital delivers cryptic dialogue in a stilted manner similar to what William Shatner might sound like if he suffered a stroke. Another character is so buffoonish with his misplaced enthusiasm that he comes off as a clown. And the leads turn in work that is not much better with awkwardly feigned laughter and totally flat chemistry.
Random placement of first-person shots feel contrived and unnecessary, although the story has such little substance that neither “found footage” nor traditional formats offer any real advantage. The visuals are washed in a strange patina where the edges of the frame are often obscured by black fog. It is as though viewing through eyes suffering from macular degeneration. The dark scenes are not using shadows for mood, but are swallowing the images whole in black tar.
“Paranormal Asylum” is also infected by careless continuity gaffes and miscellaneous shortcomings. Mistimed editing ranges from character posture changing between shots to an entire sequence clearly staged at dusk followed sequentially by a scene in the sunny afternoon. After escorting a guest into her basement to research some old files, a character excuses herself by saying, “I’ll just be downstairs I guess.” Is there somewhere even further down than the basement? Just as goofy is the proud watercraft owner who warns his friend not to scratch his boat, when said boat is nothing but a metal rectangle with three $9.99 plastic patio chairs tied together by Christmas gift ribbon.
On the fright front, having the ghost of Typhoid Mary recite her recipe for Shepherd’s Pie in detail while stalking a victim is the movie’s idea of scary. Sprinkle in a few nondescript ghosts achieved with basic dissolve effects and the underwhelming thrills are complete. With little onscreen to capture the imagination, the viewer is left to ponder, what is the worse fate for Mary Mallon? To have her name be forever synonymous with a fatal disease, or to be linked with a movie “inspired by true events,” but uninspired in everything else?
Review Score: 30