by Brody Rossiter
From director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) and inspired by the macabre prose of Edgar Allan Poe, Stonehearst Asylum is a delightfully demented thriller that conjures cinematic visions of madness while piecing together a puzzling narrative filled with unique and mysterious characters.
Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), arrives at Stonehearst Asylum on Christmas Eve with the hope of getting some much needed experience out in the field. After receiving a somewhat inhospitable welcome from the rough and ready caretaker Mickey Finn (David Thewlis) and setting foot in the labyrinthine facility, it quickly becomes apparent to the young doctor that the methods employed by the institution’s superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), are far from conventional.
Patients possessing all manner of mental illnesses freely roam alongside staff as Lamb encourages their reintegration into “normal” society. However, one patient stands out to Newgate, the beautiful Eliza Graves, portrayed by Underworld’s Kate Beckinsale. After the two begin to bond during morning rounds, Newgate is alerted to the fact that those in charge may well be guarding a shocking secret and will go to any lengths to keep the outside world from discovering it.
Brad Anderson’s talent for building taught thrillers began with the cult American indie horror, Session 9, and its paranoia filled narrative that also interestingly took place within the confines of an abandoned mental institution – clearly the filmmaker feels at home inside a padded cell. While The Machinist is undoubtedly his most notable picture, Anderson’s filmography is a monument of pulsating thrillers that scratch and claw at audiences’ psyches.
Sadly, the final act’s revelations are telegraphed from the beginning of the story, however, the insider knowledge that the viewer may already possess is unlikely to spoil the many exciting twists and turns of the picture’s narrative. Had Anderson been allowed a little more breathing room in terms of runtime, Stonehearst Asylum would have most likely been a far more fully conceived and affecting picture. Nevertheless, an incredibly accomplished cast and wonderfully evocative setting ensure that on a dark and stormy winter evening, you could do far worse than committing yourself to a spell of incarceration amongst the many shameful secrets of Stonehearst.