Been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but this feels like a good opportunity to do one. So, let’s begin!
Stonehearst Asylum (formerly known as Eliza Graves) is a thriller set in 1899 that stars Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, and David Thewlis. Additional stars include Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, and others.
Dr. Newgate (Sturgess) travels to the titular Stonehearst Mental Asylum from Oxford University to get clinical experience under Dr. Lamb (Kingsley), but things start taking unusual turns upon his arrival.
Now, how did I approach this film? Plain and simply (while showing biases), I saw it at my local Best Buy while gift shopping. I’d not seen a trailer for it anywhere (which I heard drops spoilers like a fiend), though had heard the title. Seeing that Kate Beckinsale had a starring role in it along with the description on the back of the box was enough for me to buy and watch it.
Yes, it is that easy to get me to watch a Beckinsale film. Sue me.
The film, based upon a story by Edgar Allan Poe, does little to hide the fact that it has mysterious affairs abound. Some plot points were easy to spot from a mile away, though the occasional surprise slipped in every now and then.
Something the film has in abundance, however, are themes that it tries to slip you. Some have a greater impact than others, but it’s actually both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it shows an ability to try and convey a message without coming out and screaming it from the hill-tops. The curse, however, is that since there is a hefty number of ideas it wants to put forward, it somewhat stumbles on delivering any one of them with full-impact.
The movie touches on the ideas of abuse or abandonment of those mentally ill, how a deeply disturbed individual can (for the most part) pass off as a normal person, the (to our modern senses) barbarity of past psychiatric treatments, the effects of PTSD, the sometimes violent nature of a disturbed mind, and others.
As you can see, that’s a bit of a list. When you start playing with that many themes, the impact from any one of them gets a bit muffled.
(To touch on the “barbarity of past psychiatric treatment” note, keep in mind the field and period. Injecting patients with narcotics, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, forcibly dunking them in water, and many other forms of treatment were considered necessarily effective. While we’ve made some strides in the modern days, psychiatric care has a rather heavy history behind it.)
The cast does a good – even great – job with their roles. Kingsley’s Dr. Lamb is interesting, Beckinsale’s Eliza Graves is easy to sympathize for, and the list goes on. What their performances highlight, however, is the script.
Like some of the patients at Stonehearst Asylum, the script is a bit awkward at times – sometimes in its favor and against it in others. As mentioned above, the film doesn’t really try to hide the fact that it has plot twists abound, but it did keep me wondering exactly which ideas it would run with.
Some sequences also feel somewhat jarring, though usually not by fault of the cast. One scene in particular, right before the end, felt somewhat awkwardly rushed in delivery. Since this same scene is explained in clear detail mere minutes later, it felt like it could either have had the last couple sentences snipped or rewritten.
At the same time, when it does deliver a plot point, you realize that it’s been hinting at it all throughout the film. Either through lines in the script or quirks from the actors, you know that the film’s been building up towards the reveals. Nothing feels like it is coming out of left-field, which is commendable.
The soundtrack fits the aesthetic: a somewhat quirky atmosphere with an underlying Gothic creepiness. Nothing in the theme felt out of place during the execution, so my hat’s off to the crew for keeping it consistent.
Worth a watch?: Yes, I think it is. I know I definitely intend to see it again, and knowing what I now know of the story, I intend to analyze it a bit more on my second viewing. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d give it a gander. From what I hear though, stay away from the trailers – I guess they drop spoilers like they’re going out of style.
At it’s core, Stonehearst Asylum is an interesting movie that definitely has talent, theme, and ideas. It always felt like it was just a step away from truly dedicating itself to those ideas, however, and taking the final plunge. Despite this, I found it humorously quirky in spots, but able to bite back with some unsettling themes and dread.