“Asylum of Darkness” (2017): An Impenetrable Mess

Asylum of Darkness is writer/director Jay Woelfel‘s 2017 remake of his own 2012 film, Season of Darkness. Having never seen Season of Darkness, I don’t know if this film is a complete remake or if scenes from the original were reused. Both films have the same plot, largely the same cast playing the same roles, and many of the same behind the scenes people doing the same jobs. I may never know the answer, because if Asylum of Darkness is the improved version, I don’t want to get anywhere near a screening of Season of Darkness.

Asylum of Darkness is one of the most schizophrenic films I have ever seen. Everything about it, from the acting to the directing to the music and everything in between, feels like everyone involved kept changing their minds every other day about what kind of movie they wanted to make. When the film opens and we first meet Dwight (Nick Baldasare) going through his daily ritual in the insane asylum, everything about it screams of being a quirky, twisted, dark horror comedy. The music, the voice-over, Baldasare’s acting, and even the performances of the other actors in the opening scenes feel like they belong in a witty, sarcastic horror comedy. A little over five minutes into the film, the tone completely changes and it suddenly feels like a more traditional, darker horror film about a delusional man who can’t wrap his head around reality. While the rest of the film doesn’t contain shifts that extreme, Asylum of Darkness never feels like it finds a direction for itself. It doesn’t seem to be able to stay with any one tone for longer than ten minutes.

The overall feeling of the film is not helped by the story. While Jay Woelfel is given the only writing credit on the film, the story plays out as if it were written by five, six, or seven different people who were all assigned different scenes to write, based on a general outline, without being allowed to communicate with each other or have each other’s work fully explained to them. Even so, there are aspects of a coherent plot in the overall story arc. There are things that happen in the beginning and middle portions of the film that are discussed and played upon in the ending of the film. However, these pieces of continuity are ultimately undercut by the unfocused and random directing and tone as the film moves from scene to scene over its almost two full hours.

By the time Asylum of Darkness was over, I had no idea what I had just watched. I know what happened, I know who lived, and I know who died, or who sort of died but lived as someone else. I even know what happened in a general sense, but by the end, none of what I knew made any sense or had any real impact on me as a viewer. I don’t think it was simply an example of bad film-making in and of itself as much as it was an attempt to disorient, confuse, and misdirect the viewer in order to heighten the mystery, suspense, and horror. However, this type of filmmaking can be a very delicate balancing act between enhancing the mood of the film vs killing it. When it’s done absolutely right it can be brilliant, but when done wrong you end up with a finished film that’s little different than simple bad film-making.

Worse still, Asylum of Darkness commits the absolute cardinal sin for a movie. It’s completely and utterly boring. Even scenes where the mystery, horror, or drama of the moment should be able to grab the viewer, the disjointed nature of the overall film has the effect of inhibiting the viewer’s ability to truly get into that moment. By the end of the film, you simply don’t care about the characters or the resolution of the story enough for any of it to mean anything.    

This is a shame given some of the names attached to Asylum of Darkness. It boasts genre names well known to many fans, both old and new, like Tim Thomerson, Tiffany Shepis, and the late Richard Hatch. There is much about Asylum of Darkness for me to want it to be a good film, but it just isn’t. This is the rare case where I absolutely cannot recommend that anyone watch this film at any time for any reason.

Asylum of Darkness (2017) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) eyeballs.

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Jerry Chandler
Jerry Chandler has been a lifelong geek with a huge love of giant bug movies, rubber suited Japanese monster films, and horror hosts. He has strong leanings towards the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and superheroes, but he's most often found spending his time comfortably in the horror genre. He's Written for Nerdy Minds Magazine in the past and currently writes the Thursday column for Needless Things. He's been a guest on podcasts like Decades of Horror and Earth Station Who, and he can be found as a semi-regular on the ESO Pro Wrestling Roundtable podcast. He also volunteers at Dragon Con. When not doing geeky things he works around a lot of people who carry guns and tasers for a living and frequently worries that his penchant for bad jokes and puns will result in them being used on him. He's also not entirely sure at times that he's not a fictional character.