Director Brad Anderson delivers a wonderfully realised gothic thriller in Stonehearst Asylum (also known as Eliza Graves). It’s glorious to look at and the cast is top notch (Jim Sturges, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, David Thewlis, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson but the plot (based on the Edgar Allan Poe tale The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether) is as crazy as the inhabitants of the titular asylum.
Jim Sturges plays Edward Newgate, a young psychiatrist who is just starting out on his career. He arrives at the isolated Stonehearst Asylum, run by the mysterious Dr Silas Lamb. Lamb unorthodox practises sit uneasy with Newgate and he soon realises that there’s more to the asylum’s history than Lamb is telling him. He befriends Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a mysterious patient with a painful past, who tells Newgate the asylums’s dangerous secret. To say more would give away the film’s myriad of plot twists and turns.
Brad Anderson has made a career out of directing unnerving thrillers (The Machinist, Transiberian), and Stonehurst Asylum is another addition to the genre. Joseph Gangemi’s script has many similarities to the classic Roger Corman Poe/Vincent Price adaptions from the 1960s, along with shades of H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Doctor Moreau. Dark humour and nightmarish imagery give the film a dream-like tone, even if the film never develops into a true horror. Thomas Yatsko makes the most of the desolate vistas and composer John Debney tinges visuals with an unnerving score.
The cast of Stonehearst Asylum understand the tone that Anderson is aiming for and they hit the right notes. Kingsley in particular keeps his performance high on the ham-ometer, but he keeps it levelled with the right amount sincerity so that it never feels over-the-top. Meanwhile, Sturges plays the role of the young doctor with wide-eyed confusion, his naiveté keeping the audience in check when the plot revelations get a bit too much.
Far-fetched but entertaining, Stonehearst Ayslum is an enjoyable gothic thriller with a wonderful eerie tone which is assuredly directed by Brad Anderson. A great cast and well-suited performances mean that this is a perfect addition to a woefully neglected horror sub-genre.
Stonehearst Asylum will be released in cinemas, video-on-demand and download to own on 24 April 24 2015.