Tim Blake Nelson
Set in the 19th Century Baltimore. A young woman who is stricken with grief after the death of her parents, voluntarily admits herself into a mental institution. Once Isabel is admitted to Rosewood Institute, she is subjected to increasingly bizarre and violent pseudo-scientific experiments in personality modification, brainwashing and also mind control. Isabel must try and escape Rosewood before it's too late.
You have to admire James Franco. The actor is thirty-nine years of age, has acted in over one hundred films and television shows, and he's also a director, writer, editor, producer, and cinematographer. He can navigate between arthouse and indie cinema while starring in Oscar nominated films as well as a range of stoner comedies. He is a jack-of-all-trades, to say the least. I love that he wants to try his hand at everything and isn't ashamed by being nominated one year for the best actor Oscar and the next he is starring in a soap opera for television or on the Lifetime network.
I consider myself a pretty big fan of James Franco. I think the guy is a talented actor. I've enjoyed a lot of his films and performances. What I've noticed, though is, I'm not a big fan of his directional efforts. I've seen a few of his films, and while I always love that he tries to tackle darker material and give us something left field as a director, he has sadly missed the mark every single time. The Institute is no exception. While this has its moments, it really falls short of being a scary asylum set story.
The fact that the movie is based on real events had me curious but cautious. I love a movie that tackles a real location or one that once existed. Sadly, this gimmick is now used in most horror films to get butts in seats. The more you believe that real events like this happened, the scarier the movie may be if you believe that someone allowed a doctor to conduct some of the experiments shown in the film. While I've read up on some of the scandals that haunt Rosewood, I'd say take a lot of the elements of this film with a grain of salt.
My first major issue with The Institute is that our main character Isabel isn't very likeable. While she gets a chance to grow over the course of the running time, she goes from sweet and meek to villainous and evil in about forty minutes. Everything happens so quickly that we aren't given a chance to see her slowly descend into this evil character. She gets some boiling water poured on her and all of a sudden, she is the head of this cult inside the asylum. With more of a focus on how much this girl suffers and maybe ten or twenty more minutes added to the running time, we may have been more inclined to enjoy the character.
The Institute looks and feels very familiar. A lot of the cult based scenes feel inspired by the original The Wicker Man. I imagine James Franco crafting his own mood-board in preproduction and had screenshots of The Wicker Man posted all over it. I also felt that with the mental asylum setting that he may have also been somewhat inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound. Being the artist that he is, I think I can clearly see the movies that inspired him here. Visually, I think that's what I got from this film.
When it comes to the suspense, I felt the film was seriously lacking. The film spends twenty minutes introducing us to many characters, and as things start to turn sinister, I sadly felt that James Franco and his directing partner Pamela Romanowsky were not successful in building any tension. I think this movie was trying to deliver on the time period and give us this darker tone and fill all the scenes with dread but just couldn't deliver the creepiness. I think James Franco was more out to shock then scare.
The movie delivers some solid violence. Not since one of the SAW films have I seen a scene where a man is cut in half with a pendulum. I thought while you can clearly tell it was helped along with CGI, it was still a fun scene. We also have a couple of throat slashing and some stabbings. Where the film lacked in suspense, it makes up for with dishing out the violence and bloodshed. This is one of those movies that slowly builds to a bloody third act. If you have managed to stick this out, you will find some fun to be had. The gore is the films most enjoyable aspect.
Lastly, we come to the acting. James Franco is here to boost the star power. Being the actor he is, he's brought along Tim Blake Nelson, Eric Roberts, Pamela Anderson, Lori Singer and Josh Duhamel. I'm starting to see that most of his productions are people he's calling up for a favour. The real star here is Allie Gallerani. She delivers a pretty brave performance as she spends some of it, completely nude. It's just a shame that her character is terribly written and extremely unlikeable.
DEATH TOLL: 5 + 30 (Estimated) - Death By A Mass Suicide
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A doctor is carving up a pigs corpse.
- A woman is scolded with boiling water.
- A woman is brutally whipped, blood shown.
- Someone is stabbed in the throat.
- A woman rolls around in blood.
- A woman stabs her brother in the chest twice.
- Two people have their throats slashed.
- A pendulum repeatedly slices back and forth through someone's stomach.
The Institute wastes a talented cast in a pretty lifeless and scare-free thriller. With moments that deal with the occult, cults and psychological horrors, the movie feels neither original nor fresh. We have the poor man's The Wicker Man. While the movie has some solid bloodshed, it lacked in tension and suspense. It's also hard to enjoy a movie when not one single character in the story is likeable. A missed opportunity to see James Franco deliver a creepy asylum set horror film.