Stonehearst Asylum (2014) / Drama-Thriller
aka Eliza Graves
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for disturbing and violent images, sexual content and language
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Sinead Cusack, Sophie Kennedy Clark
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenplay: Joe Gangemi (based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe)
Review published October 28, 2014
Stonehearst Asylum gets its origin from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether", which has somehow been beefed up to a sprawling 112-minute feature stacked with a formidable selection of British thespians. It is marketed as a bit of a gothic horror flick, set in England in 1899, but it's more of a dark comedy that dabbles in the "madness of one's methods" in the search for methods to cure one's madness.
Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Upside Down) gets the most screen time among them, playing Edward Newgate, a recently graduated doctor who arrives at the titular secluded English asylum awaiting his training at the hands of Superintendent Silas Lamb (Kingsley, The Boxtrolls). Lamb's methods are certainly a departure for his day, seeing rehabilitation of the insane as eschewing medication, solation, or shock therapy, instead letting them roam as they please without hindrance or severe punishment and even letting them indulge in their delusions. Graves soon meets the lovely but mad Eliza Graves (Beckinsale, Total Recall), a sufferer of hysteria, who implores the young doctor to run while he has the chance. He doesn't, of course, as he is quite smitten with the fetching woman, but finds himself in a dangerous predicament when he discovers that the doctors are actually patients that have taken over the asylum formerly run by Dr. Salt (Caine, Now You See Me), now incarcerated in the boiler room.
Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call, Transsiberian), the film has a dark and gloomy gothic look that works well, even if mucked up a bit with green-screening. It's coated with a crippling claustrophobia and lots of rough edges, which does give the setting an appropriate messiness that lends to perpetual unease at seeing either faction get control of the institution. Though it gets listed as a drama, there is a campy, tongue-in-cheek nature to the movie that suggests that we take what we see mostly as a fun genre exercise, and certainly the winking nature of the performances keeps the tone fairly light, despite some rather dark and dreary thematic material.
The film tosses in a late-developing twist, which may genuinely pique the interest of those who haven't given up on caring about these characters, but it's merely there in order to try to have some sort of ironic ending to what amounts to a nearly two-hour long episode of a TV horror anthology. If you're not on board, it feels cheap and unnecessary. When tackling the difference between letting mental illness go untreated vs. the draconian methods once put into place to cure it, the film scores points in its look at how medical treatments have done more harm than good in many instances.
Had Stonehearst Asylum remained a TV episode adapting the Poe short story, instead of padding it all out with a romance, awkward framing, and needless characters, this might have fared better than initially intriguing but progressively middling chills. In other words, it passes the time, but it's not something worth going crazy about.
©2014 Vince Leo