Studio: Dread Central Presents
Director: Pal Oie
Writer: Pal Oie, Kjersti Helen Rasmussen
Producer: Einar Loftesnes, Bendik Heggen Stronstad
Stars: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tomas Norstrom, Baard Owe, Mads Sjogard Pettersen, Renate Reinsve
Five contractors sent to inspect an abandoned asylum uncover a haunting mystery that threatens to kill everyone.
Acquired by Epic Pictures Group and released in America under their ‘Dread Central Presents’ label, 2018’s “Villmark Asylum” debuted overseas in 2015 as “Villmark 2.” Fogging this picture a little bit more, the first “Villmark” film, which came out in 2003, released stateside under the title “Dark Woods.”
That’s mostly trivia that newcomers need not worry about. Although both are directed by Pal Oie, “Villmark Asylum” relates to its predecessor only through an inconsequential callback placing their two settings in close proximity. In other words, familiarity with “Villmark” earns you an Easter egg or two, but “Villmark Asylum” functions fine as a standalone story.
It functions less fine as an original story, however. Essentially a Norwegian-language remake of “Session 9,” the plot follows five contractors sent to inspect a remote sanitarium for hazardous chemicals prior to the labyrinthine facility’s impending demolition. In addition to asbestos and mercury, the quintet uncovers dangers in the form of a dead man in a stairwell, a curious caretaker who hasn’t been off the property in decades, and bumps in the night suggesting they are far from alone in the crumbling building.
Those few sentences completely summarize the scant setup. While pat paranormal asylum investigations are as passé of a horror subgenre as vampires, a number of “at least…” qualifiers keep “Villmark Asylum” from being hit by the same stale stick beating its dead horse of a story.
For one thing, “at least” this specific sanitarium spelunking isn’t shot as “found footage.” A few inserts of security camera feeds and recovered video pop up in places, but the majority of the movie plays traditionally. In fact, “Villmark Asylum” has some of the sharpest cinematography and production design anyone is likely to see in this vein of fright flick.
Not that the movie is frightening, because it isn’t, but it does “at least” look terrific. Set dressing remains reasonably realistic without looking like a Halloween haunt trying too hard. Smart camerawork makes the interior seem in step with the massive exterior, even though the location likely wasn’t as large. This is as cinematic as a decrepit asylum can be depicted outside of garishly lighting it like a Joel Schumacher “Batman” movie.
This is also one of the more convincing casts that has ever been tasked to slowly stalk dusty corridors and wave flashlights to and fro. Their characterizations on the other hand, leave much to be desired. Little flashes like one man showing up for the job with a conspicuous cough, another man having a daughter back home, and one woman taking in an eyeful of her colleague while she showers only peripherally play into later plot points. Actors keep their shovels in constant motion, though they don’t have much ground to dig into. “At least” audiences are treated to a professional troupe of experienced performers putting personality onto the screen instead of an amateur assembly of friends and family fumbling around for the first time.
Stylish presentation earns a great deal of goodwill, but poor pacing eventually overpowers engaging imagery. “Villmark Asylum” unfolds extremely slowly, which is a problem compounded when seasoned viewers already see every step ahead before the film even lifts its foot. Beats come from the usual asylum investigation tropes of fleeting glimpses of a ghostly girl, rifling through casually available hospital records to uncover a past conspiracy, and conveniently separating at inopportune moments so threats can attack everybody one at a time.
“Villmark Asylum” impresses visually. It’s just difficult to connect with on any level other than aesthetically. With such thin backstory motivating momentum, scenes can’t conjure scares when context basically boils down to a man in a mask simply chasing a panting woman. A deeper script with more juice to its jolts and “Villmark Asylum” might have leapt ahead of its haunted hospital peers, instead of barely inching in front.
Review Score: 50