In a dilapidated hospital the patients gather each evening to watch the train pass. When the trains stop, the doctor in charge goes in search of transportation to evacuate his charges – the hospital is perilously close to the Chechen front during the 1990s Russian-Chechen War. Freed in no-man's land, the inmates run amok and then regulate themselves. Chechen freedom fighters/guerrillas take over, briefly strike a relationship with some of the residents and are then bloodily repulsed by the Russian army.

Exploitative analogies and images fly through the mind about the absurdity of war and so on when you place a mental asylum drama in a war zone. This probably isn't the first war film set inside a mental asylum, and it certainly won't be the last. It may, however, be the sole mental asylum-based film set to the Chechen war, but where House of Fools truly becomes unique is by somehow including Canadian rocker Bryan Adams convincingly alongside a cast who portray the institutionalised patients and combatants with a veracity seldom seen outside of documentary. Adams is, of course, a phantasmal soft rocker who gives the inmates hope, at first with every night train. Leaving irony way behind, he provides a moronic feel to this film, especially through the looking glass of culture between, say, England and Russia. Although contributing little more than shoddy montages from what would otherwise be a dire music video, as either or both Euro-pop fop and bona-fide Rock Icon Adams depicts a figure that might plausibly appeal to an incarcerated young woman. Less surprising for a film about individuals with distorted perceptions of reality, several distinct techniques are used to depict the themes and settings. The institute is a dreary drained whiteout, a fuller colour palette is used to airbrush Bryan Adams, and the combat scenes are high shutter speed hand-held reportage.

Watching patients react to the sudden vacuum in direction and leadership is a story unto itself, but House of Fools gives the outside world a very dangerous edge indeed via the Chechen war. Simply stepping outside is enough to draw bullet and mortar shell, and once past these, the complexities of civil war are to be negotiated. One prominent patient constantly espouses anti-authority views, only to come face to face with practical freedom-fighters in the guise of the Chechens. Released from medical dictates, she later defends her home with an automatic rifle, possibly felling a helicopter in one of the film's most awesome moments. Warping perceptions further are the practicalities of internecine conflict. In an early encounter, the Chechens deal drugs with the regular Russian army. During the deal, the opposing commanders reminisce upon an Afghanistan ambush they both took part in as members of the Red Army – the Russian commander may owe the Chechen leader his life. All this confirms that even without the orderlies, life is safer and saner inside the hospital. Director Andrei Konchalovsky satisfyingly completes his cliché by forcing the final surviving Chechen guerrilla to impersonate an inmate. Fractured country, fractured mind, "Don't tell me it's not worth fighting for," etcetera...