Kate Beckinsale and Jim Sturgess star alongside Sir Ben Kingsley and Sir Michael Caine in Stonehearst Asylum, an Edgar Allan Poe short story adapted for the screen by writer Joe Gangemi. Jim Sturgess produces a convincing performance as Doctor Ed Newgate, a young psychiatric doctor fresh out of Oxford. Brimming over with naiveté and a passion to serve the mentally ill, Dr. Newgate arrives at Stonehearst Asylum to serve as an assistant to Dr. Lamb (Kingsley).
Upon his arrival, Newgate finds himself immediately taken by Mrs. Eliza Graves (Beckinsale), a lovely inmate who has allegedly gone mad after suffering abuse from a sexually perverted husband. After having gouged out her husband’s right eye, she was placed into an asylum alongside other undesirables from affluent European families.
Newgate is also taken aback by Dr. Lamb’s unorthodox methods of treatment, which seem to emphasize lack of treatment altogether. Patients roam freely about the asylum sans medication. The patients even take on roles in assisting Dr. Lamb in the care of other patients and management of the asylum. It is not long before Dr. Newgate begins to realize something is askew with Dr. Lamb and the asylum, and he soon enough stumbles upon a corridor of dungeons that are enslaving what at first appears to be mentally ill inmates. The inmates cry out and beseech Newgate to help them. They insist that they are not mentally ill, but are in fact the real doctors and staff members of Stonehearst, who have been overthrown by the mad Dr. Lamb. The real doctor in charge of the asylum is Dr. Salt (Michael Caine).
Dr. Newgate’s discovery is validated by Mrs. Graves, who insists that she and the other inmates are now better off under the direction of Dr. Lamb, in comparison to the barbaric and inhumane treatment they endured under the helm of Dr. Salt. It now becomes rather ambiguous as to which team of players are really the antagonists within this tale. Perhaps they both are. Sporting the tagline “no one is what they seem,” Stonehearst Asylum proceeds to carry the viewer through a maze of plot twists that leads to a rather pleasant and yet still anti-climatic finale.
The up and coming Jim Sturgess holds his own as young Dr. Newgate and delivers a solid performance in the face of a rather weak production. As his star slowly creeps up on the horizon, we will certainly see more of him. Kate Beckinsale as usual, serves up little to nothing in this production aside from being an attractive and aging face. Aside from being grossly miscast alongside Sturgess, Beckinsale has never been strong on talent, which is why audiences have yet to see her garner a role beyond the likes of Stonehearst Asylum. It would be unfair to assert that Beckinsale could not act at all. That would not be true. Yet, Beckinsale lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that would set her above the average screen performer. Instead, she ranks among the very average, which at the very least allows her to keep working on a steady enough basis.
Michael Caine’s role as Dr. Salt is not at all a stand-out. Any old acting Joe could have performed the task, yet it still remains that Caine is incapable of fouling up a performance. He is a delight to behold even when there is not very much to the character.
Stonehearst Asylum is ultimately saved by Ben Kingsley’s rather convincing performance as the mad Dr. Lamb. Screenwriter Joe Gangemi as well delivers a crafty tale of trickery on the coattails of Edgar Allan Poe. The lackluster fabric of Stonehearst Asylum seems to rest in the hands of seasoned director Brad Anderson (The Machinist). While most of Anderson’s work has been in television, it felt safe to look forward to Stonehearst Asylum with favor after his work on The Machinist. Yet, Stonehearst Asylum lacks the depth, suspense, darkness, and utter sensory-creepiness audiences experienced in The Machinist. Anderson seems to have utterly missed his mark here and may have to indeed wait yet another decade before another major film script arrives at his desk.
If Stonehearst Asylum was supposed to be frightening, it was not. If it was supposed to be suspenseful, it was not. One can only beseech Anderson on exactly what he was attempting to deliver to his audience in this Edgar Allan Poe film adaptation. Stonehearst Asylum did indeed hold my attention for the entire length of the production, but this can be attributed to Gangemi’s script. Sheer curiosity alone will keep audiences hanging on into the fairy-tale finale, but the overall production is lackluster and fails to move the viewer.
Stonehearst Asylum is a comfortable 112 minutes long. It is rated a tepid PG-13, which could indeed be the culprit of this flat production. Spawned by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, audiences will certainly expect more.
Opinion and Review By Janet Walters Levite