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New Release Review - Stonehearst Asylum

A young doctor arrives at an asylum that has quite literally been taken over by the lunatics.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brad Anderson

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson



"With its quality cast of British thesps, Anderson's movie resembles a slightly more glossy BBC production - shave 50 minutes off its running time and you might have a decent small-screen Poe adaptation - but everyone's simply cashing a cheque here."


If a thriller/horror movie opens with its protagonist arriving at an insane asylum, you can be pretty sure of a twist in which it's revealed the inmates have taken over the institution. To its credit, Stonehearst Asylum makes this point clear from the beginning, though it does save another predictable plot twist for its climax.
Brad Anderson is one of those nearly-men of genre cinema. Having established himself with the atmospheric and innovative thrillers Session 9 and The Machinist, he quickly descended into sub-Shyamalan territory with misfires like Vanishing on 7th Street and The Call. His latest effort sees him descend further, and while I never write off a filmmaker, it's become all too difficult to follow Anderson's career with any enthusiasm.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Stonehearst Asylum begins in 1899 with the arrival of a young doctor, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), at the imposing title facility. The superintendent, Dr Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) is surprised at Newgate's arrival, claiming not to have received his letters, but takes him in regardless. On a tour of the institute it becomes clear Lamb has dispensed with the conventional methods of treating his patients, allowing them to revel in their ailments as opposed to seeking a cure ("Why make a miserable man out of a happy horse?" he remarks of one disturbed patient who believes himself to be a stallion).
Newgate is introduced to Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a pretty inmate who seems well-rounded despite her diagnosis of hysteria, and quickly falls for her (well she does look like Kate Beckinsale!). Graves warns Newgate that he must leave, as he is in danger, but the young doctor dismisses her warning. One night he hears voices and while investigating their source, discovers the staff of the asylum have been locked away in the basement by Lamb, himself a former inmate.
It's unclear just what movie Anderson thinks he's making here. SA begins like a comedy, with Sturgess hamming it up like a Victorian Hugh Grant, but quickly switches tone into something much darker. The plot gives us little to sink our teeth into beyond Newgate's attempt to flee the asylum. He seems to be given free reign, however, and the only thing preventing his departure is his attachment to Graves, but couldn't he simply make for the closest town and alert the police?
With its quality cast of British thesps, Anderson's movie resembles a slightly more glossy BBC production - shave 50 minutes off its running time and you might have a decent small-screen Poe adaptation - but everyone's simply cashing a cheque here. There's a pervasiveness laziness to the whole affair, with a poorly researched script that gives us distracting anachronisms like a joke about David Thewlis' character being named Mickey Finn. Even the placement of the credits seems to have been poorly conceived, with the title sequence ending on a foreboding shot of the asylum that all too obviously was originally intended as the backdrop of the title credit. To me, this suggests Anderson had little input in the post-production of his film. Maybe, like the staff of Stonehearst, he was usurped by lunatics and locked in the studio basement?



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