Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Judith Hawking, Daniel Irizarry, Lee Wilkof, Camille O'Sullivan, Stella Maeve, Pepper Binkley, Bill Dawes
Rania Ajami
Rania Ajami, Jake Pilikian
NR (Equiv. to "R" most likely)
90 Mins.
Breaking Glass Pictures (DVD)

 "Asylum Seekers" Review 
Add to favorites
In Rania Ajami's Asylum Seekers, six people on the verge of a nervous breakdown present themselves for admission to a rather luxurious mental asylum for an escape from it all. The catch? There's only one bed available, and it's up to Nurse Milly (Judith Hawking) and Dr. Beard to determine which of their prospective patients is the real deal.

Winner of the Jury Award for Best Alternative Feature at the 2010 Garden State Film Festival, Asylum Seekers mixes together a magic potion containing equal parts Rocky Horror Picture Show, A Clockwork Orange and even a little Willy Wonka for good measure.

Selecting one patient from these six is no small task given their eccentric diversity.

Our candidates include - 1)  Maud (Pepper Binkley), a rather demure and proper wife trying to prepare for the birth of twins despite not actually being pregnant, 2) Dr. Raby (Daniel Irizarry), a socially awkward speech therapist/virgin/nympho, 3) Alan (Bill Dawes), a cross-dressing stockbroker who raps, 4) Alice (Stella Maeve), a seductive Lolita, 5)  Miranda (Camille O'Sullivan), a shy exhibitionist, and 6) Paul (Lee Wilkof), a rather interesting Evangelical.

How can you pick just one?

Asylum Seekers feels as much like performance art and poetry as it does cinema, and those without a tolerance for the more experimental side of film should likely stay away from this one. Ajami paints the film in a bold color palette intertwined with bold splashes of whiteness throughout the actual asylum. Essentially about escapism and the world in which we live, Asylum Seekers is a film where the splashes of visual and auditory boldness disguise a rather surprising simplicity that is delivered time and time again throughout the film in ways both big and small by each character.

While the visual style and the spontaneous nature of the film reminds of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the film's underlying messages and not so subtle themes evoke memories of Kubrick, who was the master at painting meaning within madness. There's much madness to be found in Asylum Seekers, but there's much meaning within the madness.

Asylum Seekers features a solid ensemble cast, with standout performances by Daniel Irizarry as the disturbingly quirky and repressed Dr. Raby. Bill Dawes, who can't help but evoke memories of Dr. Frank-N-Further, is awesome as Alan while Pepper Binkley gives the film a rather surprising emotional depth with a performance that is both off-kilter and sympathetic.

The script is co-written by Ajami and Jake Kilikian, and their dialogue consistently works despite scenes that often disconnect and occasional humorous bits that don't quite pay off. David Majzlin's original score is a nice mixture of fantasy and lunacy, while D.P. Lyn Moncrief's camera work somehow manages to make the film feel both magical and, at times, rather ominous.

Picked up by Breaking Glass Pictures for a home video release on August 30th, 2011 under their Vicious Circles label, Asylum Seekers is a terrific view for those who enjoy indie sci-fi/fantasy with a twinge of dark realism. For more information, visit the Breaking Glass Pictures website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic