Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Joe Gangemi
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley
Nothing like a good old fashioned insane asylum horror flick, right? We've seen some doozies before, with things like "Asylum Breakout" hitting the lists, but what if I told you this one--"Stonehearst Asylum"--had a breath of the classic to it? Indeed it does, as it's based on a story by no less than Edgar Allan Poe himself, one of the first and biggest American masters of horror around. But can this recasting live up to its pedigree?
"Stonehearst Asylum" follows young Edward Newgate, recent medical school graduate who's ready for his first posting at the titular den of mental health. Turns out it's a celebrity resort of sorts, an early-era Betty Ford where viscounts believing themselves possessed of two heads can live alongside cousins of the Queen who enjoy painting in unusual media--think the Two Girls One Cup sort of media. But what young Newgate doesn't know is that the asylum has recently had a change of staff, and one of a rather dark variety. With a potentially lethal human resources situation at hand, and young love a-blossoming for young Newgate, it's going to be anyone's guess as to whether or not his first job will be his last.
This starts off extraordinarily well; there are some nifty spooky moments here setting up the atmosphere, and many of them are destabilized by a host of comic moments. This movie whipsaws between terror and hilarity so rapidly that it should be much worse than it is. But a combination of sheer atmosphere--I don't know what old relic of a house they found to film this in, but it is tailor made for a movie about an insane asylum in the latest 1800s--and clever performances elevate this to almost a microcosm of its own plot. It is itself insane, in its way, it's almost a bipolar affair for the first 20-odd minutes. But this insanity is surprisingly brisk and entertaining.
Those who think this might be where "the inmates are running the asylum" came from aren't without cause to think so. Indeed, the movie almost makes a mistake in tipping its hand too soon, but even that doesn't mean so much. Because the funny thing about this movie is that said inmates actually have a point about how their treatment was actually somewhat worse before the staffing change took place.
The ending has a few good twists tossed in, and some very exciting moments to it. It's a great closer to a thrilling affair, and even calls back to some earlier bits, making it a particularly sound ending. There's actually quite a bit to it, so careful viewing should prove rewarded.
Special features include your choice of English or Spanish subtitles, a small set of audio options, a making of featurette, and trailers for "Automata," "The Taking of Deborah Logan," "Are You Here," and "Fading Gigolo".
"Stonehearst Asylum" isn't the kind of horror film we see every day, and that's good news. While the set is the clear winner here, it certainly won't be at the cost of good scripting, fine performances, and a terrific combination of creepy shot through with occasional comedy and even a little bit of action that elevates this one above the common lot.