At the world's most sought after and exclusive mental institution six would-be candidates will have to prove who is the craziest of them all in order to win the spot of the one opening the hospital has. Under the watchful eye of The Beard these contests will plunge headlong down into the rabbit hole and will be taken to the far reaches of the mind at an institution that is just as insane as its patients.
There will be no room for lunatics in my asylum!
We all seek to escape the world around us sometimes. It can be overbearing, frustrating, or even just down right shitty. With Rania Ajami's feature length debut "Asylum Seekers" she aims to take a look at a group of crazies who fight for a single opening in a very exclusive institution. These contestants are Maud the trophy wife and expecting mother who isn't actually pregnant, Dr. Raby the virgin nymphomaniac, Alan the gender and race confused stockbroker, Miranda the exhibitionist who is afraid of being watched, Paul the Evangelical militant, and Alice the cyber obsessed lolita who's looking to get wired up. This small group of social rejects is under the watchful eye of "The Beard" who, along with Nurse Milly, will put them to the test to see whose worthy of being institutionalized.
Previously mentioned in the review of "Dr. Caligari" -- I had a friend compare "Asylum Seekers" with "Dr. Caligari" which inevitably lead me to the revisit and I'm glad I did so because the movies do share similarities that make them both worth exploring. Like "Dr. Caligari", "Asylum Seekers" is more about the experience rather than the story BUT in my opinion, "Asylum Seekers" is the more interesting of the two because of the story and the characters. At times, "Dr. Caligari" did feel like it was being esoteric for the sake of being esoteric and upon the first viewing of "Asylum Seekers" I thought that was the same case. That it was shallow eccentricity and that it was simply being over the top for the sake of comedy and style. I was severely mistaken as the main idea behind the movie is about escapism -- these people who are supposedly crazy seek refuge from the world around them that is causing their insanity.
That's the game at foot for "The Beard"; to see who is truly crazy and worthy of being admitted into his prestigious hospital. It's also a part of the other idea that "Asylum Seekers" is looking to convey: What is crazy? Are these six contenders all that crazy in the world we live in today? Or is our world so far gone that crazy is the new normal? Yes, the movie is eccentric and wildly over the top but it isn't without reason -- there is a subtle intelligence to be found if sought after. If not, then the movie still works as a quirky and out-of-control comedic movie about a bunch of nutty nutsters trying to get into a nut farm.
And amazingly enough I really enjoyed the comedy and for once, it isn't because of absurdism. "Asylum Seekers" is an absurd idea and some of the comedy does head in that direction but the comedy felt a bit more natural or normal rather. It isn't so much, "Wow that's so weird and bizarre it's funny." It's more of, "That's funny." Some of the exaggerated or over the top style does make a few jokes here and there annoying and or stupid. Then of course there are just some jokes that miss their mark too (as to be expected with any comedy) but overall the comedy is well done and really strong. As I said, there is some subtext at hand and that's something people have been focusing on when talking about the movie mostly to illustrate the importance and quality of the movie. (Kind of goes back to what I've said of the ignorant thought process that a movie is only significant if it has something to say.)In my opinion, what makes "Asylum Seekers" work so well is because it has a more natural flow to it amongst all the shenanigans. There is sincerity in the story and in the characters that helps make it an easy watch for a movie that could be overbearing with its audacious style and look -- it makes it so you can sit back and simply enjoy the wild ride.
No matter how you take the story or the comedy, "Asylum Seekers" remains as a wonderful visualistic journey through the wild and weird world of the disturbed and Ajami's imagination. Between the herd of Sigmund Freud's with candy-colored mustaches who show up to pit the hopeful attendee's against one another in a real life version of the board game "Operation". To having the group be transported to the woods where they have taken on the appearance of animals (Well, they wear animal masks at least.) and then are promptly hunted one by one by a giant beard and are beheaded if caught. Rania Ajami really wants to try and take you places that you've never been before, whether you want to or not. Each room, each step of progression in the movie presents a whole new spectrum of aesthetics -- the contests take place in different rooms and each one feels like it is in its own wacky world.
By now it's easy to tell that I really enjoyed "Asylum Seekers" and my fondness for it grows with each viewing. This is another niche film that most will not like because, like "Dr. Caligari", it's almost more performance art than movie. That's something you have to know and understand when you watch the movie -- some things, like the acting, could be perceived as being bad because it's over the top. The eccentricity of the characters, sets, and story will cause most people to become annoyed with the movie perceive it being different as being bad. However, I think most of FilmBizarro's readers should be able to find something in this movie; everything is quite absurd but never fails to be amusing on some level and the movie has an interesting perspective on the relationship between insanity and people/society.
Note: Pictures don't really do the movie justice so I definitely recommend checking out The Official Trailer.