Stonehearst Asylum is an elegantly made adaptation with atmosphere and A-listers to spare.
A star-studded cast leads the way in this adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. A seemingly idealistic young Doctor named Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the infamous Stonehearst Asylum fresh from his studying. Fascinated by the one of its patients Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) he hopes to become an apprentice under the institute’s uncompromising director.
Taken under the wing of Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), Newgate finds the methodology of the asylum to be anything but conventional. Despite early misgivings, Newgate slowly starts to see the results of Lamb’s controversial practices. However, following a late night disturbance Newgate ventures into the basement and finds the surviving members of the asylum’s staff imprisoned. The real director of the Institute is Dr. Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine), he explains that Lamb is actually a patient and along with co-conspirators was able to overpower the staff and seize control of the building. Now it is up to Newgate and Eliza to help free the staff and take the asylum back.
Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) is clearly a fan of the golden age of horror, the spooky asylum, the taste for the macabre and a gleefully wicked tone. For further evidence, Anderson’s first directorial project was a short film back in the mid-90s called Frankenstein’s Planet of Monsters! Anderson’s understanding of the genre is irrefutable, and his A-list cast forge a memorable ballet of madness.
The cast is all spot on and deliver the goods with strong support from David Thewlis and a brief appearance from Brendon Gleeson. Both Caine and Kingsley spar off each other like the knights of the realm they are. For all its horror homages and atmosphere, there is also a dark sense of humour that runs throughout that will make even the most hardened of Poe fans crack a smile.
Modern horror movies, for the most part, have forgotten their heritage, while it is true all genres evolve and change the modern way of doing things has seen the ways of old abandoned. Gallons of blood, questionable CGI and lacklustre characters are what we get served up on a regular basis. There are exceptions, of course, every once in a while something like The Conjuring or It Follows comes along and restores your faith in that side of the genre.
In recent years the best example of an asylum set horror can be found on TV, American Horror Story Asylum was the second season and remains its most innovative to date. The genre has been sorely underrepresented in the movie industry until now, Stonehearst Asylum is a gloriously made throwback to the classic era of horror and suspense movies.
Stonehearst Asylum is released on DVD June 22 and you’d be mad to miss it.