Title: ‘Stonehearst Asylum’

Director: Brad Anderson

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson

Intriguingly revealing only trivial pieces of personal information to the people around you for your own personal benefit is an intricate process society believes can only be achieved by the most deceptive schemers who are trying to better their own lives. But when even the seemingly most inept people can cunningly and surprisingly deceive many of the people who are trying to repress them, contending with the ramifications they unleash on humanity can be harrowing and disconcerting for everyone. The distinct characters in helmer Brad Anderson’s new thriller, ‘Stonehearst Asylum,’ which is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,’ enthralling prove that no matter how lowly they’re perceived to be, anyone can be pushed to calculatingly mislead those who have wronged them.

‘Stonehearst Asylum’ begins in a Victorian-era medical school, as a surgical instructor (Brendan Gleeson) showcases a distraught female, Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), to his students. He encourages them to find an acceptable way to treat her, as she suffers from hysteria.

Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a recent graduate of Oxford, is then shown traveling to the remote titular institution on Christmas Eve in 1899. He wants to begin working with the patients at the asylum, as he’s interested in gaining clinical experience. He wishes to become an assistant to the institution’s superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley). But Edward is surprised when he soon witnesses that the doctor’s treatments are highly unorthodox. Instead of working with the patients to help them recover, he instead allows them to continue living out their fantasies. Dr. Lamb even encourages the patients to socialize with his staff.

Upon further investigation, the newly arrived resident realizes that the reasoning behind the fraternization between the staff and patients is due to the fact that Lamb recently led the inmates to seize control of the asylum. The patients have imprisoned the real superintendent, Dr. Salt (Michael Caine), and some of his nurses in the facility’s prison-like basement. The patients bonded together to take over, as they didn’t support the way the staff has been treating them. Lamb, a former military man who was convicted of war atrocities, also mercilessly killed off much of the staff. The remaining survivors plead with Edward to escape and bring help, but he’s become too obsessed with Eliza to leave her.

Instead, Edward decides to stay at Stonehearst, in hopes that he could persuade Lamb to hand control back over to Dr. Salt, and to convince Eliza to give him a chance to prove he’s worthy of her love. While also fighting off the suspicions of Lamb’s enforcer, Mickey Finn (David Thewlis), Edward must find a way to restore order back to the asylum. The struggle between Edward and Lamb culminates with a New Year’s Eve celebration that offers a gripping insight into how both sides can resolve their differences.

Like most film adaptations of Poe’s stories, ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ is an intriguing and gripping study of conflicted characters who are struggling to adapt to the social norms of society and their surroundings. Screenwriter Joe Gangemi infused the distinct characters with complex motivations and thoughts on how to best run the asylum, and the best way the characters should be treated in the conservative society of the late nineteenth century.

The scribe’s effortless exploration of how the patients felt the need to revolt against their doctors and nurses for what they perceived to be inhumane treatment afforded the actors a gritty and enthralling opportunity to fully develop their characters’ surprising behavior. Sturgess offered the most enthralling performance in the film, as he enticingly portrayed Edward as the most rational and practical protagonist, particularly when he first arrived at the asylum. The actor subtly and powerfully showcased the new doctor’s charm around everyone as he starts to get used to the routine of the patients’ care, and enchantingly tries to maintain his sense of professionalism and honor even when he starts to discover the taunting secrets of everyone residing at the institution.

Sturgess brilliantly exuded the true essence of the perfectly complex and profound main characters Poe often infused into his stories; the actor vibrantly hid Edward’s true nature and motivations until they were epically and radically revealed during the thriller’s surprising conclusion. The performer, who has rightfully gained in his career for such diverse films as the crime drama 21, the historical drama The Other Boleyn Girl and the Beattles-infused musical, Across the Universe, has once again proved his versatility with his leading role in the Victorian-era thriller, Stonehearst Asylum.

Powerfully infusing intensely complex characters who are intriguingly driven by their strong desires and motivations to get what they want into an enchanting social commentary about the evils of society can be a harrowing and daunting task. But Anderson, who brilliantly showcased the psychological intentions in the acclaimed 2004 thriller, The Machinist, once again enthrallingly captured the human condition in Stonehearst Asylum. With the help of Gangemi’s intriguing character study of Poe’s equally multifaceted and passionate protagonists and antagonists, and the captivating performances by the actors, led by the riveting Sturgess, who was carefully paced the revelation of Edward’s secrets, the director’s latest thriller is an enthralling representation of the human condition.

Technical: B+

Acting: B+

Story: B

Overall: B+

Written by: Karen Benardello

Stonehearst Asylum Movie Review

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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