Plenty of talent assembled here with Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, and Kate Beckinsale making up the cast in Brad Anderson’s (The Call, The Machinist) Stonehearst Asylum. In many ways they are the perfect actors for this old school feeling thriller/horror. A classic 1950s style horror film. The over-the-top older male actors. The beautiful female. Based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story with equal parts darkness and fun, the director and cast do what they can to make this a serious film, but it often stumbles into funny moments despite itself. Though it is not the best film ever made it certainly is an entertaining watch if you are in the mood for this style.
The Stonehearst Asylum, a mental asylum, is a foreboding kind of place. Not just because of the mentally ill people within its walls, but also because it is in a remote location in rural England which the weather always seems to be dark and cloudy. That does not seem to scare off new doctor, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess – 21, Across the Universe). He arrives at its doors at the very end of the year 1899 hoping to get some tutelage under the doctor in charge, Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley – Ghandi, Night at the Museum 3).
He is certainly not going to get your typical guidance at Stonehearst. To say that Dr. Lamb’s methods are unorthodox is putting it mildly. This is going to be an eye opening training in the treatment of mental illnesses for Dr. Newgate. At the same time, some of his attention is taken up by a patient. The beautiful Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale – The Aviator, Underworld) is there as a patient; a patient who cannot stand any kind of touching so has been placed there by her husband.
While all this learning and lusting is going on in Dr. Newgate’s brain he finds out that Stonehearst is not only sinister looking, but is an evil place to its core. His discovery in the bowels of the large institution drives him to the edge of madness. The statement that no one is as they seem to be is especially true in this place. Dr. Newgate is at his wit’s end on how to deal with everything while keeping himself and Eliza safe.
During the 50s films of this type were en vogue. They were horrors but done with a B movie flair. The tone is set in a heavy manner with a gothic looking building, always dark, foreboding skies, storms, and, of course, tons of fog. It is not the type of horror film audiences today are used to as there is not gore and blood. Instead, and not surprisingly as they are using Poe as source material, it relies on tension and twists. All of this equals fun to me.
Part of the appeal is that it moves along at a slow pace with precious little action going on. It just relies on some scenery chewing by the actions, wonderfully outrageous costumes, creepy sets, and fine storytelling. Suspense is the name of the game.
At first you might wonder why Kate Beckinsale is in a film of this sorts. Then once you start watching it you’ll understand that she is more than just decoration. She’s quite good in it. All the actors (major and minor) do a good job. Pay special attention to the “crazies” in the background as they are highly entertaining.
I’m sure many will be skeptical about the film going in, but give it a chance and you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised. And generally entertained. You certainly won’t be bored.