Director – Brad Anderson
Cast – Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Jason Flemyng, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Sinead Cusack, Edmund Kingsley
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
For centuries man has maintained a strong curiosity in the mentally insane, and that curiosity is what lead me to Stonehearst Asylum. Upon seeing that it came directed by Brad Anderson, who found early success with Session 9 – a film taking place in an insane asylum – I was also curious to see what he could do after a four year hiatus from the genre. With a star-studded cast consisting of Kate Beckingsale, Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine, as well as a story loosely based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”, there is a lot to like about this effort on the surface. So was it worth the while? It sure was. Brad Anderson and his cast excel, and while Stonehearst Asylum lacked in scares it was nonetheless an engaging 112-minute experience.
When Edward Newgate, a young doctor with a heavy interest in asylum medicine, arrives at Stonehearst Asylum he is immediately taken under the wing of the unorthodox Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley). As Edward’s mind is expanded by the eccentric doctor, he begins to fall for the beautiful Eliza Graves, a patient with a troubled past. When she warns him that he must leave while he still can, he refuses the mad woman’s warnings…only to learn that the asylum has a sinister past that will soon come to haunt him.
Adapted by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill), this story combines numerous elements into a solid film that is nearly two hours in length and never once lost my attention. It is a love story that blends the extremes of Victorian medicine and the inhumane acts both committed by and against the mentally insane. This story is character driven, with Edward and Eliza leading the way for the protagonists and Dr. Lamb serving as the leading antagonist. Michael Caine’s character, Dr. Benjamin Salt, also serves as a supporting protagonist that was not used to full potential. Dr. Lamb steals the show, and despite his heinous actions he also exhibits a compassionate mindset that forces the viewer to console with him at times. He is the center of the conflict, but there is also the secret hidden deep within the asylum that will leave Edward stricken with fear. What is it? Well, if I told you then I would ruin one the film’s several revelations. This secret was a crafty idea that I really enjoyed, and ruining that for you could possibly negatively affect your experience. If there is one balk I have against the film, it is that there was much potential left off the table. This is especially the case for a film that is nearly two hours in length. With that much time, it should be inexcusable for a story to feel a bit on the underwhelming side. In the end the story ultimately delivers a good film involving the mentally insane, but it could have very easily been a great one considering the firepower the filmmakers had at their fingertips.
This may be more of a thriller film than a horror film, but thanks to solid direction from Brad Anderson the tension is high and that, along with the highly-tense conflict, warrant its inclusion in the horror genre. I put this alongside the same rationale as including The Silence of the Lambs and Se7ven in the horror genre. Moving on, Anderson does not shy away from the carnage here, but there is little he can do about the story skimping on the scares. To an extent one could say that the “horror” here is a bit tame, but I see it as no more tame than another popular asylum film under Brad’s filmography: Session 9. To his credit, it takes a lot to achieve good tension from a story that does not use gore or torture porn to sell itself, and he excelled at it. Alongside great performances from Ben Kingsley and Kate Beckingsale, as well as the lesser-known Jim Sturgess and the under-used Michael Caine, this is a film that is appealing to both the eyes and ears.
Overall, Stonehearst Asylum is a flick I suggest to those of you who enjoy films of this nature. Yes the horror is subtle, but good direction and an engaging story do a good job of making sure you don’t realize that until it’s too late – when you’ve already decided you like the film.