There’s certainly a great cast of British and Irish actors brought together for Stonehearst Asylum – virtually everyone in it you’ll recognise from something – so it’s a bit of a shame that they’ve gathered in service of a movie isn’t bad, but which never really takes off.
It’s 1899 and Young doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the remote and isolated Stonehearst Asylum, a place where Europe’s finest families hide their relative who have issues that they feel mean they aren’t suitable for polite society. Newgate wishes to study the methods of the head of the institution, Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), who is apparently trying to create a utopian mental health facility, where instead of the harsh, tortuous methods of the past, the patients are treated with dignity and as much normality as possible.
However, it soon becomes clear Edward has ulterior motives and he may be at Stonehearst because of one patient in particular, the beautiful ‘hysteric’ Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale). He’s not the only one who isn’t quite telling the truth either, and it may well be that the lunatics have quite literally taken over the asylum.
While that last sentence may sound like a spoiler, the possibility is raised and resolves itself fairly very early on, and indeed anyone who’s ever watched films like this before will be wondering whether that’s what’s going on from the opening few minutes.
While far from a new premise – and the final twist is less a twist than exactly what a lot of people will have assumed was coming – it does have a few interesting ideas. For example, while there’s the distinct possibility that Kingsley’s Silas Lamb is genuinely nuts, he may also be running the asylum in a far better way than the previous administration – to an extent, at least.
It may not be original, but this Hammer horror style tale could still have been an awful lot of fun. The actors – from Michael Caine to David Thewlis – certainly give it their all, hamming it up and bringing a healthy dose of gothic melodrama to the proceedings. However, things fall down with Brad Anderson’s direction, which lacks purpose and drive, with the result that a film which needed brooding tension doesn’t really have a lot. It’s kind of fun but when it needs menace it doesn’t have it, and its revelations/explanations are sometimes so over the top they feel like parody.
I know I’m making it sounds awful but it isn’t, it just has far more promise than what it actually delivers. What you do get is decent enough though. It may not be particularly memorable, but it is kind of fun while you’re watching it and has a few extremely good moments.
Overall Verdict: This gothic thriller has plenty of talented actors and a story with lots of promise, but uninspired direction results in a movie that looks pretty but never rises above being decently watchable.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac