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Years after Johnny watched his own sister get snatched away by the serial killer known as The Wolf, he's still haunted by the event. Years later, he's the detective in charge of the case when The Wolf suddenly reappears. Thankfully, Johnny manages to catch The Wolf and proceeds to escort him to his new home in the dark underground halls of Parker's Asylum. As luck would have it for the serial killer, a power outage occurs and unlocks all the doors to each of the prisoner cells, allowing every nutbar in the asylum to run free. Now Johny and a handful of civilians inside the asylum are now prisoners, forced to fight for their lives.
After BONG OF THE DEAD wowed the pants off of me, restoring my faith (somewhat) in Canadian film productions, I was set to enjoy another Canuck ditty called MEDIUM RAW. Originally a TV movie that languished before Anchor Bay recently decided to give it another shot on DVD, the film is notable for being the last appearance of Andrew "Test" Martin, who passed away in 2009. Written and directed by Andrew Cymek, the film appeared to have a neat concept that hadn't been done to death yet, so that's a positive. However, the cynic in me is hungry...
Right from the get-go, I loved the film's look. Props to cinematographer Brad Smith, who provides some genuinely beautiful shots, both in and out of the asylum. Of course, it also helps that when you have a settling like an insane asylum, it's bound to evoke some not-so-nice feelings. Also a plus are some great performances, starting with the man they call William B. Davis, aka The Smoking Man from The X-Files. As the clearly nutbar asylum director Dr. Parker, Davis gives a great performance, really getting into the role and showing a creepy side to him that's a different creepy from his X-Files days. Also showing their stuff were Sandi Ross as Mabel Hatcher (the sweet grandmother type who also happens to be a cannibal) and actress Kristina Miller holding her own as Sabrina, the little girl left in the asylum. Speaking of which...
The problem with MEDIUM RAW is the writing. See that quote on the front of the case? Sure, it's always nice when a horror film has strong villains. Problem is, the amount of villains included in this film is problematic for two reasons: One, having so many villains waters down the film and leaves us with characters we've seen a million times before; and two, the villains in MEDIUM RAW just aren't that scary. Cymek's writing takes the film into the area of action and humor, when he really should be focusing on the horror. Also complicating things is the way Cymek flies in the face of believability. Honestly, who allows hammered guards to aimlessly wander the halls of your institution tormenting the prisoners? I could buy guard cruelty, but do they have to be loaded? Also, the idea that The Wolf, a child killer, would suddenly turn to murdering adults is also absurd if you research child killers and abnormal psychology. Also, having your main character played by yourself in a script that you wrote screams of 'Mary Sue'. And who in their right mind allows a kid into an insane asylum and roam around without any supervision? Plot convenience doesn't count. After the slow-burn buildup of establishing characters in the film's first half, the film's second half just squats down and sh*ts on it all.
One MEDIUM RAW had been served, the film falters on the fact that it traded the straight-faced horror for dark comedy and action. This of course is because it's another case of a director thinking that they can pull double duty and write. Uh, no. There are only a handful of directors that can compitently do this, and unfortunately Andrew Cymek didn't do it. What's frustrating is the fact that the film had potential as a dark little horror fest, but instead went the way of *shudder* BATMAN & ROBIN. It's not as disappointing on that level, but it's bound to be lost amidst the better-written films.
Video: Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and shot using the famous Red One camera, the film looks great. The colours are the big one. Even though the film is on standard definition DVD, the film boasts some great colours (bathed in a yellow tint) with great black levels for a dimly-lit picture. All of this without any trace of compression errors or noisy blacks. Great stuff.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track plays off of the great transfer nicely. Dialogue is clear and free of distortions, especially since this is a dialogue-driven film. The effects also get the appropriate oomph, but are never overpowering.
First off is an audio commentary by director/writer Andrew Cymek. Cymek provides a casual listening experience, going through various topics including the challenges faced with the film (including talking about how the film was "compromised" by budgetary restraints), as well as casting, changes to the script and other stuff. Cymek does do a few "um's" here and there, but overall it's an interesting commentary.
Following that is the film's alternate ending that changes the outcome slightly for one character, but ultimately I agree with Cymek's decision to keep the original ending in the film.
Also included are a couple of deleted and extended scenes with commentary by writer/director Andrew Cymek. Thankfully, Cymek is on hand to explain why these scenes were trimmed/cut (mostly for pacing).
Rounding things up is the film's trailer.
MEDIUM RAW sought to take a premise that hasn't been explored lately, but ultimately because of the writing, suffers and strays from the original intention. It's a wonderfully shot film, but that doesn't count for much when the buildup created in the first half of the film is largely wasted on ridiculous concepts in writing and a straying focus. While Cymek does attempt to justify and explain the film in his commentary, MEDIUM RAW just wasn't prepared correctly, relegating it to the pile of films you watch once and never go back to.