Review: 'The Institute' Directed By James Franco And Pamela Romanowsky

Is there any place creepier then a 19th century psych hospital? I mean, that’s like the #1 location for an abandoned haunted building, right? Now, we usually see them in their current abandoned state but The Institute takes us back to the heyday when those souls that are trapped now were initially being primed for evil spiritry. James Franco and Pamela Romanowsky direct the thriller in which Allie Gallerani stars as Isabel Porter, a young debutante whose parents have just died and is seeking help with her grief. The stay at Rosewood starts out innocently enough, coming off more as a resort home then a mental asylum…even if there are some things that should throw up red flags. It doesn’t take long for her “therapy” to start with Dr. Carin (James Franco) where she starts to realize the true nature of the facility. A home for the rich and powerful to collect young women and medicate them into a state where there will is completely pliable and they will do whatever they’re told in the name of their “Treatment”

Sounds like an awesome plot, no? I thought so, even if the whole turn to the “asylum run by the faceless rich and powerful” was a little out there. The execution of that awesome plot though…that’s where the movie falters. There are some positives which I’ll get to in a bit, but the negatives are almost all encompassing easily overshadowing any redeeming features the film shows. The whole thing seems like a high school, or maybe college…. I’ll give them that, play that was filmed with a camcorder. The acting and dialogue go hand in hand here so I’m not sure where to put the blame in its inconsistency. Line by line the actors go from delivering Shakespearian type lines in haughty accents to lines that one could hear on the street today in a normal everyday accent. It’s not that different people are from different classes and places causing this…it’s literally the same character switching about the whole thing through. The set design and costuming seems low rent, specifically Franco’s Freud inspired look in which he sports a mustache that is either obviously fake or he’s been genetically predisposed to have horrible facial hair. It’s not low rent in the way of low budget, I’ll explain by saying it looks like a BBC show from the 80s. The characters’ motivations seem completely unearned and random, specifically Isabel, our main character. Now the medication is a plot point so you could lay it on that but it if that’s what it’s attributed too it wasn’t communicated well. I think most of this comes down to inconsistency and that inconsistency could have come from the co-directing duties handled by Franco and Romanowsky. It seems as if they weren’t aware of what the other was doing. Some shots seem like they are right out of a soap opera and others seem more then capable, clues like this are littered throughout the film and could explain most of its downfalls.

All of that being said the film does a good job with the creepy imagery and cultish set pieces. Had the direction been more cohesive these scenes would have been downright unsettling. Several of the actors, Allie Gallerani, Josh Duhamel (in an admittedly small role), Zoe Sidel, specifically do a great job with what they are given. Some of their scenes do come off poorly but it’s fairly obvious that this is due to the tonal changes and bad dialogue. I’ll give a few points for using a pendulum, in the sense of the pit and the pendulum, as a set piece. I first saw this used in Ghoulies II way back when and always thought it was such a cool and downright cinematic way for a killer to do his or her thing, I was always surprised it wasn’t used as a plot device more often.

All in all, I obviously have to give The Institute a no-go. It’s far from unwatchable but unless you’re really into this very specific plot type there are a million better ways to spend 90 minutes. The film is stated to be based on true events and the closing shots do show the real life Rosewood with a chilling fact that it did not close its doors in Baltimore until 2009. It did make me curious but I’m fairly certain the only true events included in this film is that there was a psych hospital in Baltimore in the mid 1800’s called Rosewood

2 out of 5 Guttenbergs