Some fears are specific to a given individual or group of individuals. Some are more common. Not everyone has arachnophobia. Also, not everyone worries about flying in airplanes or fears that an evil clown might pop out of the sewers. Often, the best horror movies are the ones that avoid the niche fears and instead tap into those that are damn-near universal: such as fear of the unknown, or xenophobia, especially when that xenophobia is crossed with scotophobia (the fear of the dark). It is this latter combination that Villmark Asylum (2015), a Norwegian horror film, does well.
I should confess here that your humble reviewer rarely watches horror movies developed outside the United States. That fact is neither a purposeful avoidance nor a bout of xenophobia on my part. I suppose I’m just not exposed to the marketing for non-U.S. horror as much as I am films made by U.S. production companies. Villmark Asylum captured my attention because I am a Dread Central patron. That said, I have typically enjoyed the horror movies I have seen outside of my own culture, even if I don’t entirely understand the mythos behind the story. The best example of a foreign film I enjoyed but didn’t completely understand is Mr. Vampire (1985), a Hong Kong vampire horror comedy in which the monsters hop for some reason. I enjoyed Mr. Vampire, although I didn’t connect with it from a cultural perspective. To me, the hopping vampires were fun, but not particularly threatening.
Not so with Villmark Asylum, which I both enjoyed and connected with on a visceral level. The film follows a team of five individuals tasked with identifying potential hazardous waste inside an abandoned sanatorium scheduled for demolition. As they set about their tasks, the group encounters the sanatorium’s caretaker Karl (Baard Owe) who, naturally, has some secrets he’s kept stowed away among the debris. Soon after, they discover that insanity still lingers in the supposedly deserted old hospital, and it’s out to get them.
I know what you’re thinking: we’ve seen this before. You’re right. The plot of Villmark Asylum is neither original nor delivered in an especially new or unique way. Perhaps that is the film’s downfall. However, the movie is enjoyable for the same reason that tired old urban legends are still told at kid’s sleepovers or spread through email and social media on the internet. It is perhaps the same reason we horror fans repeatedly return to slasher franchises. The creators of Villmark Asylum know that the fear of the thing that lurks in the dark, just beyond the limits of our sight, is a primal and a powerful one. They know that you know what’s happening, and they attempt to play on that.
Another potential ding for Villmark Asylum is the horror movie cliché characters that comprise the hazardous waste team. For example, in Live (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) we have the fearless leader who at first just wants to get the job done and then later becomes the fighter against evil. If this film were part of the Alien franchise, Live would be its Ripley. Then there’s Frank (Tomas Norström), the naysayer that no one likes. Rounding out the team are Ole (Anders Baasmo Christiansen), who looks like he could play David Harbour’s long-lost brother, Even (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen), and Synne (Renate Reinsve). Of the latter three, Synne appears to have the most screen time, although it seems to be because Live has an inappropriate boss-to-subordinate crush on her (she quite obviously ogles Synne’s naked rear-end in the shower at one point). However cardboard they might be, the characters are the clichés that they are because they work for this setting and story.
Overall, the camera work, make-up, effects, and atmosphere of Villmark Asylum make it an enjoyable watch. If you go into this movie knowing that it is a cliché film and knowing that you’re going to be reading English subtitles (unless you speak the native language, of course), you’re more likely to enjoy the experience. All of the actors come off as believable in their roles. The atmosphere is tense. If you enjoy an excellent retelling of an old tale, give this one a watch. If you are entirely averse to horror clichés and have never plunked down your hard-earned money to see Insert-Franchise-Name Part 35, you’ll probably want to avoid it.