What I'm Watching: Arkham Sanitarium: Soul Eater
So, one of the best ways to get found footage to work, as I've documented numerous times in the past, is to frame everything as a ghost hunter type paranormal investigation show. It helps justify a LOT of the hoops and logic problems with found footage.
Arkham Sanitarium is another in that vein, but it at least mixes things up a bit by having the plot kick off by the most renegade and assholey member of a group trying to get their show off the ground, getting into Arkham Sanitarium and uh, 'borrowing' the equipment to go explore the place.
And since this is Arkham, and this is Lovecraft, y'all can assume where this is gonna go, right? Nowhere good.
Of course, this trio of investigators are already on shaky ground, so they were going to implode anyways, clearly, even before the other two catch up to keep Mark in line.
"Where are you, Cthulhu?? Where are you hiding?"
I love that this dives really deep into the Lovecraftian stuff. Just hearing Cthulhu's name tossed around gives this movie more weight than your usual found footage flick. It takes a ton of liberties and goes their own way with it, but having weird footage speaking with a gatekeeper and going deep into Yog-Sothoth's role in things isn't common ground covered in films.
Things start off innocently enough with Jerry and Linda trying to find their asshole host who's gone rogue, with some good setup both of their characters, the relationships between the three, some backstory on the Arkham in their world, and the typical spooky moving furniture stuff. It's maybe a bit too long, but the oppressive, cramped space, and the constant bickering keep the first act lively enough.
But it's not long before these doubters and mockers looking to make a buck off of Cthulhu wake something up and have to suffer the consequences. Namely one of them being possessed and chasing the other two around. And that force jumping between Jerry and Mark keep things interesting.
"What's up, Jerry? Y'up for an interview??" "YOG SOTTOTH!"
I love that each member of the crew has their own camera to record events, which is natural enough for the setup. But the bonus is, so you always know whose camera you're seeing footage from, since they have each footage labelled, Jerry_Cam, Linda_Cam...and the best part is Mark's footage is tagged simply and succinctly with "Asshole_Cam".
The beautiful thing about Arkham, since a lot of it is your typical found footage in a sanitarium movie, is that it just keeps getting weirder. Okay, fine, you got guys in a haunted asylum. But how about we have them get possessed? Still not enough, how about we have them get captured, while a guy in a Cthulhu gas mask wanders around and torments them? What if we add in Linda being impregnated by an octopus Cthulhoid facehugger?
"How does that feel, Linda? You were facefucked by an octopus from outer space!"
This movie starts out pretty standard, ramps things up, and then the third act is just straight up WTFery to the nth degree. You don't see it coming, and it just keeps getting weirder, even when you think it can't weird no more. It definitely makes this otherwise typical movie stand out from the crowd. There's stuff here you won't see anywhere else.
Because after all the other strangeness, howabout we throw in some Claymation Cthulhu sex??
I'm surprised that after all the fuckery in this movie, some of them actually escape the sanitarium. But oh don't worry, the movie still ends with even more weird shit.
If it wasn't for the sheer level of weirdness, Arkham Sanitarium would be pretty forgettable and you could pass on it with ease. But having interesting characters and a third act that just gives not a single care to expectations, puts it on a whole other level.
Now, this is no Grave Encounters, the movie that set the bar for FF movies in an asylum, IMO. It doesn't even come close. But Mark's dickish behaviour and dialogue help him stand out as a compelling voice in the movie, and I mean, come on. Claymation octopus. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Like most movies of this nature, there's not enough plot here to sustain things, and a lot of it is just killing time until the weirdness starts, but the third act is so unique that it's worth waiting for. And the movie is on the short side, so doesn't feel overly padded. If the movie had maybe worked out more of the mythology, and done more with the haunted asylum in the second act to keep things weird and nasty before all hell broke loose, Arkham would be more stand out. As it is, that third act...*man*. The movie lacks, until it most definitely doesn't, but it's short enough that it's still entertaining enough up to that point.
Arkham Sanitarium is not great. There's better found footage. There's better asylum movies. There's better everything. But if you want something truly weird and unexpected, even with everything I've already said, this is at least worth checking out just for the experience, and there's enough fun to make it likable enough on its own merits.