Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Bryan Ramirez, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama
Writer: C.M. Bratton, Kerry Valderrama, Bryan Ortiz, James Hartz, Evan Boston, Scott Marcano
Producer: Kerry Valderrama, Remy Carter
Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Lou Diamond Phillips, John Glover, David Mazouz, Lacey Chabert, Mayra Leal, Chris Mulkey, Robert Englund
Three stories from a mental asylum feature an artist whose dolls speak to him, a boy haunted by an imaginary beast, and a doomsday prophecy obsession.
The three tales in “Sanitarium” are loosely related by the frame of being the histories behind three mental patients under the care of Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Stenson. It is an arbitrary linking device that is necessary or unnecessary depending upon how connected a viewer needs his/her anthology vignettes to be.
Less arguably unnecessary is McDowell’s throwaway narration bookending each piece. They are the type of self-important monologues that speak in poetically vague phrases empty of actual context with lines like, “we can only try to treat, or perhaps in some way, comfort these poor demented souls wandering helplessly within the warped and misshapen realms of their inner worlds.” Dr. Stenson has much less value to offer his wraparounds than a Rod Serling or a Crypt Keeper.
An eccentric folk artist, an abused schoolboy, and a nutty professor are each plagued by hallucinations in the form of voices or visions that drive them into states of madness. Despite having three different directors and six different writers, the three segments are unified in their common theme of fractured minds existing in some state of isolated solitude.
They also share similar issues with pacing and overall impact. All three shorts stroll leisurely through their storylines with a stride buoyed by a rich roster of supporting players, but pulled under by excessive padding weighing down the energy.
Out of every possible person behind the scenes, it is Casting Director Scott David who gives the production its strongest assets. The “Sanitarium” deck is stacked with genre veterans, fan favorites, and too seldom seen talent for a near depthless cast of actors and actresses. The real complaint is that while several of the names have a chance to show themselves at their best, others are slid into roles that appear briefly and have too little to contribute to their particular segments.
Robert Englund and Lacey Chabert are both relegated to simple parts with little to emote or opportunities to turn memorable moments. Elsewhere, however, John Glover runs with his chance to chew things up as a brilliantly tortured sculptor with burgeoning dreadlocks while Chris Mulkey delivers blue collar gruff in a way that few personalities can do as well.
The movie’s notable standout is Lou Diamond Phillips. The 21st century era of his career has been challenged to meet the popularity of his 1980’s peak, but Phillips’ performance here is a reminder of just how good he can be. He is genuinely convincing and sympathetic when conveying the intelligent mind of a college professor ramming against the lunacy of a wildly overwhelming obsession.
“Sanitarium” opts to depict insanity with long, lingering looks at its main characters mired in internal reflection. It is a habit that grows numbingly tiresome with its persistence throughout all three plots. “Figuratively Speaking” wades deep in lengthy moments of John Glover’s wordless despair and entranced haze. “Monsters Are Real” establishes the mundane side of life for an imaginative hero, and then continues piling it on with shots of the disturbed boy staring at cloud formations, brushing his teeth, fixing a sandwich, and then eating said sandwich. “Up to the Last Man” fares better at justifying its drawn out scenes of humdrumness, but on the whole, “Sanitarium” slows itself down with an overstated focus on commonplace behavior for psychologically tormented introverts.
The first two stories are simply unsatisfying. An artist driven to madness by anthropomorphic creations is a recycled theme and its use here is too cut and dried to leave an impression. Ditto for the tale of a boy whose imagination manifests an escape from abuse. While it still contains fat to be trimmed, the Lou Diamond Phillips segment is the film’s clearest illustration of mental illness and it is the most successful story of the three.
On its own, “Up to the Last Man” is a rewarding watch, but “Sanitarium” as a total package leaves too much to be desired as recognizably noteworthy overall. There are occasional production slips that include soft focus and audio spikes garbling raised volumes, though the film otherwise comes across as a polished effort. Unfortunately, the lack of ferocious bite in the stories suggests that this asylum does not warrant any further visits in the future.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 45