Stonehearst Asylum: Sharp, Eerie British Thriller Lacks Extra Touch of Magic
Ben KingsleyBrendan Gleeson...
In 1 Cinema
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chillingly and satirical short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Brad Anderson’s madhouse thriller serves up a star – studded cast frolicking in plenty of morbid fun in the unnerving but equally flimsy, Stonehearst Asylum.
Written by Joe Gangemi, Stonehearst Asylum is set in late 1899 and is centred on Edward Newgate (Sturgess); a recent medical school graduate of Oxford University who is looking to gain clinical experience at the titular mental institution. Arriving there on Christmas Eve, Edward soon meets the establishment’s mad superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), whose unorthodox way of providing care bemuse Edward. Lamb’s methods – which allow for his patients to seek their own healing methods and do whatever they see is a fit – doesn’t sit well with the fresh grad and he finds himself in more than one awkward situation with patients.
All soon becomes clear, however, when Eddie discovers hostages locked in the basement and a grave secret that he must admit no knowledge of in order to help rescue the imprisoned.
Shot in Bulgaria, the film carries an unnerving energy. Sadistic electroshock treatments, violent rapes and random patient sedations are just some of the tools of torture which Stonehearst Asylum is using to induce fear and horror and for the most part, it does accomplish its goals.
However, although its costumes and set-design – not to mention its sprawling landscape – are a nice example of a period-piece done well, there is a problem with the suspense and this nagging little feeling that it could have been all a little bolder and a little scarier.
Luckily though, its A-list cast which includes the scenery-chewing Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine help elevate the film and it’s only the over-the-top antics of Kate Beckinsale and the fragile performance of Jim Sturgess that let the side down.
Adapting Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat, but Stonehearst Asylum uses a very particular type of British black comedy well, providing a fun, if underwhelming, viewing experience. On the back of cult successes like Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, Anderson carries a reputation for creating eerie and subtly sinister worlds in his films. He achieves this here, to an extent, but beyond the aesthetics exists an occasionally flat film.