With an absolutely stellar British cast and a decidedly dark and psychologically thrilling aura, ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ was a film I was very excited to see. It had such a low-key cinema release that it wasn’t until I saw it on the shelves of my local DVD store that I finally managed to get around to watching it. As excited as I was for this adaptation of a short story by Edgar Allen Poe however, the reality of the situation was that I was left wanting a whole lot more, but not in a good way.
The film follows a recently graduated medical student, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), who applies for a job at one of the country’s most infamous asylums for the clinically insane. Upon his arrival at Stonehearst, he meets the chief doctor, Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), and his dogsbody, Mickey Finn (David Thewlis). After a tour of the building, Edward finds himself drawn towards a patient named Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), and as he gets to know Eliza, Edward is sure that there is a secret she is hiding. Upon further investigation, Edward descends into the depths of the building, and finds a group of prisoners and their leader, Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine). As doubts are raised as to who is truly sane, Edward must work out who is telling the truth, and navigate his way through the secrets of Stonehearst Asylum.
Sounds like a good plot right? When I first saw the trailer, I immediately thought this was a British version of ‘Shutter Island’, which is one of my favourite films, (they even had Ben Kingsley playing the head doctor of a mental asylum for God’s sake). Yet whilst there are obvious similarities, the films could not be more different. So if you’re expecting something vaguely in the realms of ‘Shutter Island’, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed, which was my overriding emotion. The opening scene was fantastic and thought provoking, which owes much to the performance of Kate Beckinsale, but after that it became very messy. As a plot, I thought this film had undoubted potential. There was scope for in depth character exploration, plenty of twists and turns and a real up close and personal experience with the mentally deranged. Yet on every level, this film disappointed me. I wanted to be intrigued and shocked but I predicted the ending about twenty minutes in. There was very little character exploration, aside from with Silas Lamb, which annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of examples of deranged and disturbed behaviour in every scene. I just didn’t get that sense of fear or shock from the characters that I wanted to. The tempo of the film as a whole also contributed to the underwhelming experience and at times it verged on boring, which is something I rarely say about a film. One aspect I did enjoy, however, was the costumes and set design. The Victorian, gothic setting was the perfect backdrop to this twisted tale, but these aspects were not enough to keep me interested.
Whilst the cast-list was impressive, aside from Ben Kingsley I found even more disappointment in the acting performances. Michael Caine’s role was brief, but he was somewhat wooden and uninspiring. Jim Sturgess is an actor that annoys me anyway and he did nothing in the film to improve my opinion on him. As a main protagonist I found him really difficult to associate myself with or root for, to the extent that I really didn’t care what happened to him by the end. Kate Beckinsale was impressive and alluring to begin with, as I mentioned earlier, but as the film wore on she became less and less convincing. However, I would attribute that to her character rather then her performance; Eliza was a confusing and frustrating character who left a lot to be desired. David Thewlis is in the same boat as Beckinsale, initially impressive but rather annoying by the end. The only quality performance was that of Ben Kingsley, but you could argue that we’d expect nothing less from a man of his stature. An unnerving and chilling performance: a rare positive in an otherwise indistinguishable mess.
Overall, ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ was a disappointing experience and a film I will not be revisiting. I might be guilty of being slightly harsh on the whole, as other people have viewed it quite favourably, but I’m afraid this just didn’t hit any of the right notes for me. I wanted to like this film, and considering the film’s genre, this should have been perfect for me, but this was such a missed opportunity.
Director: Brad Anderson
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Michael Caine, David Thewlis