The Institute (2017)
Directed by: James Franco, Pamela Romanowsky | 94 minutes | thriller | Actors: James Franco, Allie Gallerani, Tim Blake Nelson, Lori Singer, Vincent Alvas, Pamela Anderson, Carmen Argenziano, Lauren B. Mosley, Zoe Bleu, Melissa Bolona, Tamzin Brown, Laura Burnett, Robyn COhen, Amber Comey, Jeannine Corcoran, Elena Cristiean, Josh Duhamel, Jessica Starr Folger, Nana Ghana, Beth Grant, Zola Vanessa Hauge, Gabrielle Haugh, Scott Haze, Erin Johnson
In the past, women were thought to be imperfect beings. Physically weak, prone to hysteria and incapable of rational thinking. Well-meaning doctors devised methods to make them better, literally and figuratively. Less well-meaning doctors took advantage of the women entrusted to their care. In the – now closed – Rosewood Institute in Baltimore, female patients were ‘adopted’ by wealthy dignitaries who then used them as slaves. A strong starting point for a film, you would think, but directors James Franco and Pamela Romanowsky make a mess of it.
‘The Institute’ – based on an “incredible, but true story” according to the DVD cover – is set in the nineteenth century. The headstrong Isabel Porter (Allie Gallerani) is not feeling well after the death of her parents. Her brother (Joe Pease) takes her to the aforementioned Rosewood Institute, where genteel ladies in trouble can regain their strength. dr. Cairns (James Franco) tells Isabel that she will feel reborn as long as she surrenders to his treatments. She has to tear down her old identity in order to build a new one. Cairns gives Isabel a drink that makes her dream vividly. The young woman loses her grip on reality and is drawn into the entanglements surrounding a diabolical society.
‘The Institute’ could have made a point about the fear of strong women in a patriarchal society. Or about the vulnerability of psychiatric patients. It could have been a stylishly designed film. It could have been a movie where actors descend into the dark depths of their own minds. What we get is a faded, rudderless misfire. Although there are some pretty gruesome scenes in ‘The Institute’ – torture with whips and boiling water, a lobotomy – the end result is tasteless rather than scary. Worse, it’s deadly boring, with all this semi-philosophical rambling about pain and liberation. It seems the filmmakers had no idea what they wanted to say with this thriller. That idea is reinforced by the absurd ending, which definitively kicks the already shaky structure. To skip.