The Institute opens with Marie (Victorya Brandart) having a child ripped from her womb by some questionably superimposed surgeons. Later, we learn she had a traumatic birthing experience and a stillborn baby that left her uterus heavily damaged. It hasn’t deterred her and her husband, Daniel (Ignacyo Matynia), from trying to conceive, even though nothing seems to work — not even in-vitro fertilization, which has landed them in considerable medical debt. It’s the sort of trauma only a strong relationship can withstand, and although they’re at wit’s end, the two want to stick together on this … even if it means unconventional methods.

So Daniel finds a “natural elixir,” and soon the couple travels to the source — a fertility institute founded by Dr. Lands (Mark Lobene), who promises methods for women who have tried everything. When they arrive, they meet a few other couples who seem happy and relaxed. At dinner, they’re fed green smoothies of unique ingredients that make Marie super aroused. So they fuck. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

However, Daniel starts to notice things aren’t adding up. For one, Dr. Lands subjects the two of them to strange medical procedures and checkups far beyond the traditional methods of obstetrics and gynecology. That, and the fact their bedroom lamp has a camera aimed directly at their marital bed. Oh, and the other couples all seem to be trying to seduce them into an outdoor orgy by the pool. 

Unconventional, to say the least.

There are two ways to view The Institute. One is as a frustrating failure — a shallow attempt at slow-burn pregnancy horror in the style of Rosemary’s Baby. Make no mistake: Even at 85 minutes, the film prolongs the obvious mystery for far too long and never develops its characters enough to make the pacing feel earned. Getting pregnant, the experience of pregnancy, giving birth and motherhood are all pretty complex and interesting emotions upon which to base a horror story, which is why there are so many of them. They’re also difficult to fully pull off in an industry more or less dominated by male filmmakers. Life under pregnancy is different for men, even those attempting to be as present as possible, because men aren’t the ones whose bodies are being changed inside-out to accommodate the child. It’s lonely. This doesn’t mean great pregnancy horror can’t also be violent and scary as hell; look at Inside, for instance. The problem is that this film completely lacks a psychological thriller aspect, and Marie isn’t really written with the internal life to carry such a story. Daniel is the central character, and the entire experience is seen through his lens. He’s the one who becomes suspicious and he’s the one who has to convince his wife to escape Dr. Lands’ clutches. I mean, she’s basically medically raped for the entire movie, but the story only really uses that situation as an element of the horror they’re experiencing rather than actually engaging with it for a more thoughtful horror experience.

On the other hand: If you temper your expectations, The Institute is a fairly effective erotic-horror exploitation film in the mold of older, low-budget fare, particularly reminiscent of something out of the 1970s or 1990s Hong Kong scene. We have monsters, rampant sexuality, body horror, weird experiments. There’s an overabundance of softcore sex scenes and an odd emphasis on hot sex as an element of procreation in a way that isn’t accurate but is nonetheless sort of gleefully cinematic in a potentially offensive way. Nothing in the film holds up to the barest amounts of scrutiny, and it’s not inaccurate to say the film is completely disinterested in being disturbing so much as it aims to be entertaining. It delivers on people dying horribly and people being naked. It’s kind of nasty and, because of it, occasionally really fun.

Still, The Institute is not a film I’d wholeheartedly recommend. The schlocky elements work, but the character stuff is kind of a drag. I admire the final few twists, but they would’ve felt more earned if Danny and Marie were more fully developed. There isn’t quite enough smut or violence to say, “Wow, you have to see what they got away with here.”