Studio: Terror Films
Producer: Joe Dain, Jim Klock, Miles Fineburg
Stars: Michael Ironside, Jack Plotnick, Amy Smart, Doug Jones, Alfie Allen, Hilmir Jensson, Nova Waretini-Hewison, Haley Kotch, Danielle Kotch, Robin Berry, Ayden Callaghan, Annika Ryberg Whittembury, Jonatan Bokman
A doctor reviews case files of asylum inmates whose stories involve serial killers, demons, vampires, ghosts, and zombies.
Aside from an occasional breakout like the original “Lights Out” or “Clown” faux trailer, a lot of terrific short form horror content never makes it to the mainstream because it has no commercial way of getting there. Having seen so many of these short films wow audiences at festivals only to evaporate into obscurity, I always thought it made sense for feature-length collections to be created out of such material, since an anthology is more marketable for mass consumption.
Unfortunately, distributors with that same idea appear more interested in how cheaply they can acquire ready-made mini-movies and Frankenstein them together for quick turnaround. The result tends to be either a mish-mash of low-budget flotsam that doesn’t flow together (“Zombieworld” - review here) or a piggyback for a previous movie it has no real relation to (“The Invoking 2” - review here).
Fortunately, none of that is the case with “Patient Seven.” Not only does “Patient Seven” collect seven strong shorts worth watching, it includes a proper wraparound tying everything together in a creatively clever way.
The premise of “Patient Seven” is an esteemed doctor is visiting an asylum to review the case files of several criminally insane inmates. The doctor calls each patient into his office one at a time and mentally, sometimes physically, torments them to tell the truth behind their stories.
These interludes are overlong and would be an interminable swamp of sleep-inducing fluff if not for the ingenious inclusion of Michael Ironside as the doctor. (It’s also an ingenious way of getting the movie to 111 minutes when the seven shorts only total an hour.) Any other actor and these extended scenes of seated conversation have far less hope of holding anyone’s attention. Yet Ironside is bulletproof when it comes to being boring. Putting his patented sandpaper personality behind every one of his words, Ironside creates an engaging character that is enjoyable to watch, and even has an opportunity for action in his final scenes.
Although the rhythm isn’t spry, what is admirable about the wraparound is how writer Barry Jay Stich near seamlessly weaves each individual piece together without it feeling forced. The seven shorts are unrelated, pulled from a variety of both countries and production years. Stich is basically given seven separate conditions he has to work into a singular story and he does it believably, even coming up with an amusingly plausible explanation for why two segments are in Scandinavian languages. One could almost be convinced “Patient Seven” was produced with preplanning and not done after the fact.
“The Visitant” is the first short. It’s straightforward, clocking in at only a nickel, and features Amy Smart as a convincingly concerned mother with Doug Jones as, what else, a lanky creature.
16 minutes makes “The Body” the longest segment in “Patient Seven.” It earns immediate points for featuring trick-or-treaters in all three “Halloween III” masks, complete with dangling Silver Shamrock tags. Production design is aces all around. Look closely at the board of cocktail drinks posted behind a bar for another handful of in-jokes. Alfie Allen from “Game of Thrones” stars as a murderer whose accompanying corpse is confused for a costume prop by partygoers. The black comedy is subtle enough to not overpower the atmosphere. If “The Body” isn’t the most standout short in “Patient Seven,” it’s certainly in contention for the crown.
“Undying Love” and “Evaded,” the latter of which is the final short, are two takes on typical zombie apocalypse scenarios. The ideas are nothing new, though the acting, staging, and foreign settings put a fresh scent on how humans handle losing loved ones to the undead.
I don’t understand how a four-minute short requires four credited writers, five if going by the end credit scroll, but apparently it worked. “The Sleeping Plot” had me snickering out loud, with dark humor bolstered by a camera that cheekily never shows any adults above the waist. This story of a little girl running cons for a nefarious purpose is all build to a payoff, but the ramp-up actually works as a beat all its own.
“The Banishing” is precisely what a 10-minute horror short should be. It has a traditional three-act structure, a nice hook leading to a solid twist, and professional-grade execution on all fronts.
“Death Scenes” has a low-budget look that it makes up for with a good premise paying off in unexpected fashion. Another five-minute affair, “Death Scenes” gets in and out with a sufficiently satisfying quick bite of horror.
Of the horror anthologies cobbled together from disparate short films that seem to be arriving with increased frequency, “Patient Seven” is one of the better ones. Of course, not all of the shorts will be to everyone’s tastes, but there isn’t an indisputable stinker in the lot. At least these feature recognizable faces, varied locations, and genuine production value. Less time spent in the overlong wrap with the difference made up by one or two more shorts, maybe “Patient Seven” could have gone up to bat against the all-timers.
Review Score: 75