Review: 'Stonehearst Asylum' ★★

'Stonehearst Asylum'

Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess in the film "Stonehearst Asylum." (Millennium Entertainment / October 23, 2014)

In the first scene of the gothic bash "Stonehearst Asylum," a doctor played by Brendan Gleeson gasses on about "the classic symptoms of the chronic hysteric." He may as well be talking about the madhouse genre itself, in addition to the fraught young woman on display, Eliza, played by Kate Beckinsale.

Based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," the film relocates the action from Poe's France to a remote corner of England, though the movie was actually shot in Bulgaria, which might look more like England if England looked a little more like Bulgaria.

On Christmas Eve 1899, a dewy-eyed young doctor played by Jim Sturgess arrives at Stonehearst to apprentice under the mysterious Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley).

Unlike his predecessor, Dr. Salt (what is this, a Victorian edition of Clue?), who allegedly favored sadistic methods of patient control, Lamb lets the loonies run amok and create their own little society. Michael Caine appears as Salt; Eliza is one of Lamb's permanent residents.

Director Brad Anderson ("The Machinist," "Transsiberian") heaps a lot onto the narrative table set by the screenwriter, Joseph Gangemi. Like Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," "Stonehearst Asylum" starts with the hysteria knob set at 11 and goes up from there.

We get bouts of electroshock therapy of a particularly harsh degree and, more frighteningly, both Kingsley and David Thewlis in cackling, bulging-eyed close-up, portraying asylum staffers you wouldn't trust with your brain, your secrets or anything else.

The key line in the script comes straight out of Poe: "Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see." The naive Sturgess character, an "alienist in training," learns more and more about what's really going on. Then there's a twist, which we won't discuss, in case you can't see it coming.

In the film's production notes, screenwriter Gangemi asserts his intent was to crossbreed a 1960s Hammer horror film with a Merchant Ivory period picture. It's nicely designed and photographed, but the movie careens from absurd comic overstatement to something darker and more troubling.

The original title was "Eliza Graves," suggesting earlier script drafts may have focused more on the Beckinsale character. As is, she gets a bit lost in her own story. And each of the actors, highly qualified, appears to be acting in a slightly different version of the same story.

"Stonehearst Asylum" - 2 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for disturbing and violent images, sexual content and language)

Running time: 1:52

Opens: Friday at theaters and VOD.

News Coverage on Joe Gibbs - CTNow
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Joe Gibbs

A collection of news and information related to Joe Gibbs published by this site and its partners.

Top Joe Gibbs Articles see all

Displaying items 1-5
  • Virginia Tech, UVa coaches handle second-guessing well

    Virginia Tech, UVa coaches handle second-guessing well
    With the possible exception of tailgate gluttony, sports fans' most sacred, unalienable right is second-guessing strategy.
  • Kyle Busch wins spring race at Richmond in duel with Denny Hamlin

    Kyle Busch wins spring race at Richmond in duel with Denny Hamlin
    The Sprint Cup Series Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 on Saturday came down to what most races in NASCAR's premier series come down to at Richmond International Raceway these days: a battle between Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin....

    Lazor and Rocco develop Virginia's pro style offense together

    Lazor and Rocco develop Virginia's pro style offense together
    As soon as Michael Rocco had a chance to sit down and talk football with Bill Lazor for the first time, Rocco knew where he wanted to spend his college years. Sitting down with Lazor in Jan. 2010, just days after Lazor was hired by coach Mike London to...

    No excuses for Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Burton on Saturday at Richmond

    No excuses for Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Burton on Saturday at Richmond
    Saturday is no-excuses night for several NASCAR drivers at Richmond International Raceway. None for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his legion of fans. If Junior has the horses late, bump-drafting obligations won't interfere. None for Denny Hamlin, the season'...