Mental illness is something covered in film pretty extensively. The human mind is so complex that those who are considered “insane” provides for some of the very best of cinema. The new thriller Stonehearst Asylum tackles the subject of insanity in a very dark and at times, disturbing way. The film has a fantastic cast and a gritty feel and originality that few thrillers these days possess. That originally, however, stems from Edgar Allan Poe whose short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether serves as Stonehearst Asylum’s primary inspiration.
Taking place in England circa 1899, Stonehearst Asylum follows Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a young Oxford Medical School graduate who comes to a secluded mental hospital in the middle of the woods. He is quickly taken under the wing of the facility’s superintendant Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) and is fascinated by his modern medical techniques. The patients also seems to run free, providing for a very unorthodox environment to treat the mentally troubled. The more time Newgate spends in the asylum, the more bizarre the situation becomes. This of course is complicated by a budding romance between himself and Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful patient who seems to know a very twisted secret.
Stonehearst Asylum is a terrific thriller every step of the way. Newgate’s investigation of the place and his interactions with the staff and patients provides for some very creepy stuff. We go along with Newgate on his journey to expose the asylum for what it is, no matter how horrific it may be.
Along with the young hero played decently by Jim Sturgess, we have a great turn from Ben Kingsley as the man running the show. His motivations seem vague and his character is a bit shady. Kingsley does a great job here (as usual). Kate Beckinsale is alright and nothing more. Her looks are the real highlight here (as usual). The always reliable Michael Caine appears in a supporting role and so does David Thewlis. All in all, it’s one of the better ensemble film casts of 2014.
Psychological thrillers can be a tricky thing to pull off but Stonehearst Asylum does so in an excellent way. Set in 1899, the sets, costumes and props are all true to the time period. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, The Call) is to thank for much of that and the results are pretty great. The entire mood and atmosphere of Stonehearst Asylum is an eerie one and one that is aesthetically-pleasing. You will feel transported to 1899 and it’s quite extraordinary.
With such a talented cast and crew, it’s a shame that this film won’t gain more recognition. It will fall into obscurity and probably become a random late night pick on Netflix Instant. It is a big budget thriller with many ingredients of a blockbuster but it will likely through the cracks. Hopefully, it will develop a strong cult following because it’s quirky and weird and full of excellent film qualities. Basically, if you want some good old fashioned fun then look no further than the dark and often delightful Stonehearst Asylum.