"Believe nothing that you hear… and only one-half of what you see."
I think Brad Anderson is one of the most underrated directors working today. Session 9 is a modern horror masterpiece. The Machinist, though best remembered for the weight Christian Bale lost for his role, is a creepy, clever thriller. Transsiberian is a pretty excellent thriller with great acting and definitely deserves a much larger audience. Even Anderson at his most mainstream with the Halle Berry 911 thriller The Call was pretty suspenseful and effective. (Admittedly Vanishing on 7th Street wasn’t that great.) Plus, Anderson’s directed so much TV that I’m sure he’s worked on at least one of your favorite shows (Fringe, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, The Man in the High Castle, and so on). So it’s interesting to me that Stonehearst Asylum, a film which gave Anderson his best cast and impressive production values, came and went without registering with audiences.
The movie starts out rather ominously as the title reads Eliza Graves instead of Stonehearst Asylum in the opening credits… In my experience, it’s never a good thing when the title in the credits doesn’t match the movie’s poster.
Based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, Stonehearst Asylum follows a young Oxford gradate (Jim Sturgess) to an insane asylum in England, 1899. The asylum is run by the unorthodox Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley), who lets the inmates (many of them dangerous) freely intermingle with the staff. The young doc is a little confused by all of this, but he’s mostly just in love with the pretty lady at the piano (Kate Beckinsale). But a noise in the night leads the doc to the basement where he discovers men and women locked in cages. The gruff Michael Caine comes up to the bars, announces himself as the true master of the asylum, and accuses Dr. Lamb of overthrowing the staff.
The lunatics are running the asylum!
Stonehearst Asylum is pretty good. It’s never great but there’s too much skill in front and behind the camera for this to ever drop anywhere below a 3 out of 5 star rating for me. Ben Kingsley seems to be enjoying the role of a madman in control. Kate Beckinsale remains an underrated dramatic talent and one wishes that she’d stop playing with vampires and werewolves to do more interesting characters like Mrs. Eliza Graves (also, check out her work in the recent Austen adaptation Love & Friendship). David Thewlis is almost unrecognizable as the murderer who is now posing as Lamb’s second in command. And the dude who thought he was a horse was good. I found Jim Sturgess to be rather dull but then I often do, so maybe that’s just me.
I liked the film’s attempts to talk about medicine and treatments for the insane a century ago. As the inmates tell it, the real doctors often preferred harsher treatments than the mad Dr. Lamb, and in some cases a patient’s condition actually improved under Lamb’s care. There was a great deal of barbarity in our techniques back then and I am left to wonder if we will one day look back on some of our modern medicine in much the same way…
I believe Stonehearst Asylum to be a gothic romance, personally. It’s not a horror film, not really. There’s darkness, madness, and a good deal of mystery, but Anderson is more interested in history and romance than scaring his audience.
Tomorrow’s planned movie: Housebound.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of fiction and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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