Directed by Brad Anderson
For as long as there have been movies, there have been cinematic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling tales of terror. Most have been true to the source, but there have been some, er, creative interpretations (remember 2012’s The Raven, starring John Cusack?). For those who like their Poe faithfully followed and set in the period, Stonehearst Asylum (based on the 1845 short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether”) is sure to please.
With a look and feel quite reminiscent of 2010’s Shutter Island, Stonehearst Asylum is replete with dusky caverns, hidden passageways, shadows, secrets, and lies. In the thick of it is Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a young, earnest Harvard Medical School graduate who becomes obsessed with a beautiful and musically gifted mental patient named Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale).
As the mystery unfolds, it seems the asylum has been taken over by the inmates… or has it? If you believe Eliza’s attending physician Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), it is the imprisoned Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) who’s suffering from delusions of grandeur and has been locked up for his own good. But as Salt pleads his case to the impressionable newbie, Edward begins to doubt Silas’s story. Danger lurks around every corner in form of criminally insane inmates, torturous forms of treatment, and the vast and harsh hinterlands surrounding the isolated fortress.
Director Brad Anderson is best-known for his command of blending suspense with the psychological terror of his protagonist (Session 9, The Machinist, and most recently The Call), and Stonehearst Asylum is no exception. However, with such a large ensemble cast of big personalities – the aforementioned Kingsley and Caine, plus David Thewlis and Jason Flemyng – our hero gets lost in the shuffle. Also, the film varies in tone… mostly it feels just a tad over-the-top with an undertone of comedy, and so the horror elements are weak.
Having said that, Stonehearst Asylum is still quite entertaining. Think: “Downton Abbey” meets “The Knick”.
3 out of 5