I’m not really crazy, you know. I’m actually a vampire who hunts werewolves with automatic weapons.
To be honest, the only reason I watched Stonehearst Asylum was because Kate Beckinsale was in it. The only reason I’ve watched most of the films she was in (including the goofy, but fun remake of Total Recall) was because of her mere presence. So when I saw she was in what looked like a stilted gothic soap opera, I thought, what the hell, might as well give it a shot. Stonehearst Asylum is a mental hospital that’s operating in the wilds of England, about as far from London, or any vestiges of civilization, as you can get. It’s 1899, and a recently graduated alienist (a nineteenth century term for a psychologist) named Edward Newgate (James Sturgess) arrives at the asylum, ready to take up his post as an assistant.
You think you’re Napoleon? I got that beat; I was Gandhi!
After a mix up (apparently the letter Newgate had mailed to them was never received), the administrator of Stonehearst, Dr. Silas Lamb (played by the always great Ben Kinsley) welcomes Newgate with open arms. Lamb has an unusual view of caring for the mentally ill; instead of using the barbaric nineteenth century treatments of what would now be considered outright torture by our present day standards, Lamb prefers to allow the patients to roam about the halls without restraint or drugs. But Newgate has his eye more on one specific patient: Eliza Graves.
I just wanted to say that you rocked my world in Underworld.
Eliza Graves is played by Beckinsale with great vulnerability, but not so much so that she’s too wishy-washy. Eliza is the victim of spousal abuse, with her husband, a sadistic sod who wants a rematch, constantly pestering Lamb to officially release her back into his custody. But Lamb, knowing this would mean Eliza’s certain death, is determined to keep Eliza safe on the grounds of Stonehearst. On the surface, it looked like Stonehearst Asylum was going to be another trope-filled soap opera, but it’s got a great script that’s brought to life by a fantastic cast of actors, including Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Jason Flemyng and Brendan Gleeson, among many others.
How could you forget the cupcakes? You know how much they love them! What’s the matter with you?!
Directed by Brad Anderson, who also gave us Session 9 and The Machinist, this was based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, and contains a twist that packs a wallop. But aside from the extremely well-done manner in which this film is made, it also has a great attitude towards the mentally ill. In addition to telling a great story, Stonehearst Asylum also proceeds to humanize those who are afflicted with mental illness. Instead of going for the easy trope of viewing the mentally ill as scary monsters, the film posits that the real monsters here are the short-sighted administrators who abuse them. A great movie featuring great actors in a thrilling story–what more could you ask for? Go check in at Stonehearst Asylum. –SF