MOVIE REVIEW: STONEHEARST ASYLUM / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BRAD ANDERSON / SCREENPLAY: JOE GANGEMI / STARRING: KATE BECKINSALE, JIM STURGESS, DAVID THEWLIS, BRENDAN GLEESON, BEN KINGSLEY, MICHAEL CAINE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 24TH (BOTH CINEMA AND DIGITAL RELEASE)
The year is 1899. Arriving at Stonehearst Asylum to continue his studies and gain much needed first-hand experience, Edward Newgate (Sturgess, drawing inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Jonathan Harker) finds the practices and policies of director Silas Lamb (Kingsley) strange to say the least. While struggling to understand Lamb’s theories that allow patients to mix freely with staff and enjoy the run of the hospital, Newgate becomes infatuated by one resident in particular; the mysterious Eliza Graves (Beckinsale). Only then does he discover the truth about the asylum.
The opening scenes of Brad Anderson’s homage to gothic noir bode very well indeed. Brendan Gleeson’s fiercely bearded doctor spouts forth on the nature of hysteria as unfortunate subjects are wheeled in and out of the lecture room insistently pleading their sanity. These shocking scenes then give way to external shots of the atmospheric titular asylum itself, an eerie mist enveloped institution that could give Castle Dracula a run for its money in the creepy, gothic stakes. So far so good. And then infuriatingly the film forgets entirely what it wants to be and becomes simply a tiresome checklist of routinely unimaginative horror tropes that are neither scary nor interesting.
Frustrated disappointment begins to pervade your soul almost immediately as the promise of the opening scenes fade like a misty memory. So much could have been good about Anderson’s film, but so little actually works. The sets, locations and costumes are beautifully shot by cinematographer Tom Yatsko, oozing as they are with Victorian grandeur, as misplaced opulence starkly contrasts with the brutal medical practices of the day. The performances of the cast could be deemed good, were they to be in entirely different films altogether. Kingsley’s supposedly sinister Lamb demonstrates little of this necessary trait, preaching as he does Ghandi-like acceptance rather than channelling Don Logan’s chilling temperament. Beckinsale swoons repeatedly with costume drama sensibility, Sturgess displays a presumably well-practiced stiff upper lip, while Sir Michael Caine simply grumbles at everyone in his vicinity before the under developed personality of his character is medically removed entirely. No cast member escapes the asylum in a better position than they went in, and later scenes give the unavoidable impression that motions were just being gone through.
The confused nature of the film becomes more noticeable in the middle third. The reveal that the lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum comes too early and removes any essence of mystery or intrigue. As the inmates then become more and more cliché-based in their extravagances, and the thinly veiled morality is wafted around like an extremely blunt medical instrument all sense of dread and peril disappears and you find yourself wondering what happened to the film you began watching all those long minutes ago.
As for Anderson, his back catalogue shows that he can do much, much better. The Machinist was a deeply troubling character study while Session 9, although not entirely successful, hinted at a rare ability to balance tension and scares. Instead of drawing on this experience to create a modern horror that reverentially references classic Hammer styles while capitalising on the Edgar Allan Poe’s source material, instead Stonehearst Asylum is just bland and forgettable.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10