“I was shot on Super VHS, and as a result the film doesn’t look too great. Running at just 80 minutes, “Insaniac” tells the story of Autumn (Robin Garrels, who also wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film), who must take a journey back into her past to discover what had transpired a year earlier, and why she can’t remember it.
Whatever happened to her had apparently been bad enough that poor Autumn has ended up in a sort of mental hospital, although it’s not too hard to see that the “hospital” is really an office building. The hallway of an office building, actually, with one of the offices sitting in for the doctor’s office. “Insaniac” is as low budget as they come; actually, calling it “low budget” is an understatement. The film is no budget, which makes its ambitions all the more respectable, if not a little bit perplexing. The film has everything against it, from amateurish acting, limited locations, and no budget to speak off, and yet it’s still better than it has any right to be.
Lead actress Robin Garrels, who besides contributing the screenplay probably served lunch and Gatorades to the limited cast and crew in-between scenes (I’m just kidding, of course), is the film’s one — and only — bright spot. Garrels is a natural actor, and since she’s working from her own script, her Autumn is very believable. Unfortunately everyone else has confused “Insaniac” for Amateur Hour, and as such the film takes a drastic nosedive into the abyss of bad filmmaking every time Garrels is offscreen or has to share screen time with her less talented colleagues.
“Insaniac” opens in the past, then shifts to the present where Autumn is in Dr. Lumen’s office discussing her progress. Lumen is played by director John Specht, who unfortunately doesn’t recognize that he’s not much of an actor. Not surprisingly, Specht’s dialogue delivery is atrocious and has all the emotion of a tape recorder — only less effective. He’s so awkward on camera that it’s a mystery why he didn’t just hire someone else to play the part; maybe the guy Specht borrowed that office from could have proven to be a better actor, since he couldn’t possibly be any worst than Specht.
Parts David Lynch insanity and parts Tim Burton nuttiness, “Insaniac” spends most of its time supposedly traveling through the memories of its lead. Because Autumn has blocked out the memories of what happened, she has to go all the way back to every trauma in her life in order to gain the strength to face the truth of what occurred that night a year ago. This affords Specht and cinematographer (and I use the term loosely) Jeff Atwater to go all “Twin Peaks” on us. This trip through Autumn’s head makes up the best parts of “Insaniac,” as the more “real” segments are just terrible in every respects.
I first said that the film seems to have been shot entirely in Super VHS, but that may be giving it too much credit. Sometimes I had the impression they were just using plain ol VHS. The images are mostly grainy and lifeless, which is the prime reason why filmmakers don’t use video of any kind anymore. Another reason is that the uncontrollable background noise vibrates throughout the scenes where there’s no soundtrack present to hide them. Visually speaking, the segments inside Lumen’s office are probably the worst. The scene is cut essentially from three perspectives — a wide on the office and a close up on Autumn and another one on Lumen. The scene intercuts between the 3 takes, with the background noise being louder in the wide shot than in the close-ups.
Blessed with a strong lead in Robin Garrels, “Insaniac” could have been much worst than it turned out to be. The trippy vibe from Autumn’s journey through her own warped mind is the film’s highlight. For a film shot on video and using the apartments of the cast and crew, some borrowed time in an office building, and talent composed almost entirely of part-time amateurs (Garrels being the exception), “Insaniac” is better than it has any right to be. But even so, it’s still quite bad.
John Specht (director) / Robin Garrels (screenplay)
CAST: Robin Garrels …. Autumn
Chris Grega …. Hart
John Specht …. Dr. Lumen
Derek Simmons …. Kelley