Jack (Jesse Metcalf) is just your typical big brother, doing what all big brothers would do when their mentally unstable sister attempts suicide and is involuntarily committed to the state mental hospital—getting themselves committed too! Too bad Lilly (Kiele Sanchez) ended up in an asylum run by Dr. Gianetti (Peter Stormare). A mad scientist of the highest order who is using his patients to perfect a drug called Orpheum which strips the brain apart and brings the most violent tendencies to the surface so they can be treated more easily. Sounds logical right? Wrong! What it really does is turn it’s victims into bloodlusting maniacs with crazy ice-blue eyes and a taste for human flesh.
You can usually count on one thing to ring certain when you see a film that stars Peter Stormare. You can bet dollars to donuts that Stormare is gonna be bat-shit crazy and chewing up scenery like a woodchipper on crack. INSANITARIUM is no exception to that rule. As Dr. Gianetti we get to see every vein in the man’s forehead pulse out of control, even in moments when his character appears to be calm. Forget about the times when he’s nailing his assistant against shelves of glass beakers after tying her up, cutting her leg with a scalpel and injecting himself with an unknown substance just for kicks! Ever hear the old adage “the lunatics are running the asylum”? That turn of phrase could be tattooed straight onto Stormare’s chest.
The rest of the cast does a pretty good job of keeping up with all the inspired lunacy on display in a film about a bunch of lunatics. Metcalf is supposedly the only sane one and he sorta pulls that off. Sanchez is sufficiently troubled but often comes off like less like a suicidal inmate and more like a really pissed off version of Ali Larter’s character from FINAL DESTINATION 2. Arman Shimerman (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLATER) also makes an appearance as a sort of Hannibal Lecter serial killer who frequently taunts both the guards and the patients with his penchant for the weird. But, the real prize of the film in terms of performance is awarded to Kevin Sussman (WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER) as a not-quite-crazy nut case that helps Jack in his quest to rescue his sister before all hell breaks loose. What a shame it’s a fools errand because all hell breaking loose is exactly why we all checked into this psych ward of the damned. So, give our guts and grue its due!
On that note, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that if you’re looking for blood then consider that INSANITARIUM is the directorial debut of MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN scribe Jeff Buhler. And thank God that Jeff provides us exactly what we expect and demand from an asylum film. It’s a rollercoast ride of obliterated bodies, chomped on flesh and buckets of blood basting the white walls in sheets of stick spray. Frankly, knowing what I already know about Buhler’s other production I could have easily tainted this release with overblown expectations. But, for all its anarchic flair and a huge body count to supplant it, INSANITARIUM is just a shockingly good little film. Solid performances from the cast, quick direction and a good machete to the face make this one worth checking out.