Precariously walking between horror, mystery, and thriller genres, Stonehearst Asylum is a visually striking and thought-provoking movie. Every time I watch one of these movies taking place in old 19th-century insane asylums I can’t help but feel awful about what was going on there. And I’m not talking about the plot of this particular movie but stuff that was happening in real life. I don’t want to go into details but just know the therapies they were using were horrific. I’m talking about procedures like lobotomy or trepanation. Just think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Or even The Professor and the Madman based on true events and starring Mel Gibson.
Now bare with me on this one as while going down another rabbit hole, I started reading about Bart Huges, a Dutch librarian who trepanned himself in 1965. The more you know. But I digress, let’s get back to this wonderfully Gothic horror movie. I keep saying horror, but I think that this is a mystery above anything else. Stonehearst Asylum is based on a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. And although a lot of the story was changed you can still feel that Poe vibe. Because of the setting, I remembered another, more whimsical movie, Quills, based on the stories written by the infamous Marquis de Sade. Sadly, you won’t find any of that dark humor here.
Otherwise, this is a well-constructed and executed gothic thriller with a distinctive atmosphere. Although the cast seems pretty impressive, except for Mr. Kingley the rest of the heavy hitters received little screen time, leaving the show in the capable hands of two leads Jim Sturgess and Kate Beckinsale. This is a shame because Stonehearst Asylum features such icons as Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson. The sets, costumes, and lighting were all done superbly and one can actually get that eerie feeling of being trapped in such an institution.
Edward Newgate is one of those doctors that actually cares deeply about his patients, and in the year of our lord 1899, there are plenty of patients. He decides to go to Stonehearst Asylum, an institution run by famous Dr. Salt whose methods are a bit unconventional… Soon things start to spiral out of control.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the story to keep you guessing what’s going on in this strange place. And you can bet your sweet ass that there will be twists in this one. I only wish they were willing to go the distance and at least dip their toe into horror. It’s like they wanted to make a safe commercial gothic movie but without the things that make it gothic. So, don’t expect any wonders from this one, it’s definitely not a masterpiece. But Stonehearst Asylum is definitely worth watching, especially for the fans of the genre.
I think that once you’ve seen American Horror Story: Asylum, the second season of this amazing television show, everything with this setting feels a bit underwhelming. Still, if you’re looking for movies like Stonehearst Asylum, you might want to check out Hellraiser II, Gothika, and Shutter Island. Perhaps that last one, Shutter Island is the most similar.
Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Joe Gangemi, Edgar Allan Poe (book)
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Jason Flemyng
Fun Facts: This is the second movie that Ben Kingsley plays as a doctor in a mental hospital. The first movie was Shutter Island (2010) with Leonardo DiCaprio and this is the second one.