Genre: Thriller
Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language and Disturbing Scenes)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website:

Opening Day: 20 November 2014

Synopsis: When Edward (Jim Sturgess), a young doctor fresh out of college, arrives at Stonehearst Asylum in search of an apprentice position, he is warmly welcomed by the superintendent, Dr Lamb (Ben Kingsley) and his “staff”, including Finn (David Thewlis) and a mesmerising woman by the name of Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale). Edward is intrigued by Lamb’s modern methods until a series of unusual events lead him to make a horrifying discovery, exposing Lamb’s utopia and proving that nobody is who or what they appear to be.

Movie Review:

Drawing inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’, the Victorian-era psychological thriller ‘Stonehearst Asylum’ poses an intriguing ‘what if’ scenario. Indeed, what if the loonies at a mental institution become the ones running the show? That is what the young dewy-eyed doctor fresh out of Oxford, Edward (Jim Sturgess), comes to discover as he arrives on a snowy Christmas Eve at the titular madhouse in a remote corner of England way up in the hilly countryside. 

Instead of a Dr Benjamin Salt in charge of the grounds, Edward finds the enigmatic superintendent Dr Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) calling the shots. Under Dr Lamb’s administration, the doors of the patients’ rooms have been unlocked, leaving them free to roam the premises. Dinners also resemble a big family gathering, with much (loony) fun and conviviality to be had around pre-meal cocktails and subsequently a huge table in the main hall where the food is served. Gone are the prison food trays – and more significantly the ethically questionable methods of straitjackets and deprivation – that used to be part of Dr Salt’s “treatment” programmes. 

But Edward seems really more concerned about one particular resident, a certain Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), whom we meet briefly at the start when she is trotted out by Brendan Gleeson’s Alienist (as psychiatrists were called in that day) in front of a bunch of medical students to illustrate the symptoms of those suffering from ’hysteria’. When Edward meets Eliza, she is playing the piano beautifully, although the same adjective can be said of her looks, which immediately have Edward mesmerised. By the time Edward insists on saving Eliza even before he contemplates freeing Dr Salt and the rest of the rightful caretakers locked up in the basement, you know that there is something much more to his attraction for her. 

Though undoubtedly drawing from Poe’s source material, screenwriter Joseph Gangemi does devise a number of exciting plot turns that do not deviate from the more scientifically-driven themes of the film. Indeed, while our immediate sympathies lie with Dr Salt and his cohort, we learn that they are no saints either, keen to perpetuate the unenlightened practices of the past with nary a care for the humanity or wellbeing of their patients. But just as we think Dr Lamb might be Dr Salt’s complement, the former trots out his proud invention of electroshock therapy to challenge conventional thinking of it as a brutal (but brief) means to a humane end. It’s no secret that psychiatry has gone through a revolution in the past century, and it is admirable that the film doesn’t lose a clear-eye on the nuanced subject. 

Not to worry though, director Brad Anderson keeps the psychological mumbo-jumbo brief while guiding the narrative along with an assured hand, ensuring that the theories do not bog down the storytelling. There is certainly a lot happening at the same time, and a lot of questions to be answered. Just who is Silas, and what is his psychosis? Is Eliza really ‘sick’, or is she a victim of circumstance? What about the loose-screw groundskeeper Mickey Finn (David Thewlis), who may be even more unhinged than his master Silas? And just where exactly do Edward’s motivations lie? Anderson keeps the mood tense and mystifying, and it is his accomplishment that the movie pulses with Hitchcockian intrigue and dense thrilling atmosphere. 

Beckinsale may be top-billed, but the show belongs to Sturgess and two other British veterans – Kingsley and Caine. Sturgess holds our sympathies as he tries to stay one step ahead of his pseudo-captors, even through Beckinsale’s tendency to over-act in order to compensate for the somewhat one-dimensional writing of her character. There is also much fun to be had in seeing Kingsley and Caine go toe-to-toe, the former projecting a compelling air of gravitas while the latter an aptly more low-key but no less persuasive complement. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised at the stellar ensemble Anderson has also lined up – including a menacingly good Thewlis, a smarmy Gleeson and a nutty Jason Flemyng – evidently drawn by the top-drawer British cast which lend the movie a rare air of prestige.

It’s not often we describe a movie as classy, but Anderson accomplishes that with a gripping yet thoughtful script from Gangemi, solid performances from a inimitable cast and some handsome widescreen lensing by Tom Yatsko. Poe will no doubt be pleased by the film’s thick gothic air, and everyone who loves a good mystery that keeps you guessing till the very end will be in for a real treat. 

Movie Rating:

(Absorbing and atmospheric, this Victorian-era psychological thriller is both classy period fare and twisty Hitchcockian mystery at the same time)

Review by Gabriel Chong



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