Take a Drink: every time Beckinsale urges Sturgess to escape, or vice-versa
Take a Drink: for piano
Take a Drink: for each “doctor” and “inmate” we meet
Take a Drink: whenever something unsettling occurs
Take a Drink: “Mickey Finn”
Take a Drink: for “science”
Do a Shot: for big twists
Do a Shot: when Kate Beckinsale Beckinsales out.
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
Brad Anderson can’t get no respect. Despite having some of the most striking genre fare of the last decade plus on his resume, from the horrifying Session 9 to the terrifying physical transformation of Christian Bale in The Machinist. Heck, he even made an exciting thriller out of the idea of a two-week train trip in Transsiberian, even if it’s about an accurate a representation of Russian Railways as if they’d just filmed it on the New York City subway.
I call it the Orient Express, you know, ’cause of all the murders.
And yet, he barely rates a mention when people discuss contemporary horror and thriller directors. Stonehearst Asylum sees him at it again, though, in a tale of a young 19th century alienist, or psychiatrist, (Jim Sturgess) who begins work in an asylum with some strange, oddly humane psychiatric policies…
The entire reason I decided to watch this film was a review that gave away the film’s first major twist, so I’m going to do the same. You’ll figure it out immediately, trust me. Stonehearst Asylum is a facility where the inmates are running the place, literally. Ben Kingsley is an inmate who’s wrested control from the characteristically cruel turn of the century methods of head physician Michael Caine. Knowing this gives the first 10-15 minutes a comedic tint, and actually heightens the intrigue of the rest of the film when you’re not waiting for the obvious shoe to drop.
The Obvious Shoe?
This role reversal makes for an intriguing commentary on psychiatry, from the idea that even lunatics were better caretakers than Victorian “medicine” to a rather sneaky commentary on modern prescription drug-happy “treatment.” Perhaps a happy horse really is better than a miserable man.
The true joy of the film, though, is seeing the ace cast, which also includes Brendan Gleeson, an intimidating David Thewlis, and Kate Beckinsale, bounce off each other and chew on the deliciously pulpy material (don’t worry, there are more twists to come). Kingsley and Caine in particular deliver everything you’d hope for from that pairing.
It’s unfortunate the film is so focused on Sturgess and Beckinsale’s stuffy, petticoat and cravat-style “romance”. It’s utterly uncompelling, and while better actors with more believable chemistry might have salvaged it somewhat, in all fairness they’re not given much to work with.
The final twist somewhat addresses, but doesn’t assuage the fact that neither of these characters, and in particular Sturgess, ever make even one remotely logical decision. I mean, Kate Beckinsale’s hot, but not “sure, you gouged your last husband’s eye out because… butt stuff?, but nevermind that” hot.
Forget the leather!
The movie also has a bad overexplaining issue. Of course a character named Mickey Finn tries to slip someone a mickey, but this is the type of script that not only uses the easy reference, but, afraid that nobody in the audience is so dreadfully clever as they, explain it in detail, then references it again later.
Described as an attempt at melding the sensibilities of Hammer and Merchant Ivory films, Stonehearst Asylum actually mimics the former quite well. Too bad it wastes so much time on a pale imitation of the latter.