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STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014): Review…”Enlightened Times”

Stonehearst Asylum

“Let us be grateful we live in enlightened times,” says Dr. Lamb to Dr. Newgate in the recently released Stonehearst Asylum, after describing trephination, a medical procedure that involves drilling a hole in a possessed patient’s skull to let the demons escape.  Indeed, Stonehearst Asylum is a film that makes me grateful for modern medicine. I only wish it could have made me as grateful for the art of filmmaking.

Not that the film, directed by Brad Anderson and based on an Edgar Allan Poe story, is terrible.  It really isn’t.  It certainly boasts an impressive cast including Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, and Brendan Gleeson, and the plot itself is original enough.  Set in the 1890s, Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Asylum, fresh out of medical school at Oxford and eager to treat those with mental afflictions, partly due to his own unhappy childhood as an orphan.

But when he gets there, he doesn’t quite find what he expected, as he follows Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley) around as an apprentice.  Patients wander around freely, some lost in their delusions, and there doesn’t seem to be any active treatment that he can see.  Instead, patients are celebrated in their “natural, unadulterated state.”  Newgate soon finds out though that the reason for the hospital’s weird administrative running is that the real hospital staff is locked up and starving in the basement, while the patients themselves, having overtaken the staff, are pretending to run the show.

jim-sturgess_stonehearst_asylum_prod_still_018Newgate promises the staff that he will escape so that he can return with help to free them, but he will only leave if the beautiful, perfectly sane Eliza Graves (Beckinsale) goes with him, and she has no intention of leaving what she perceives as her home and the one place where she is safe from her abusive husband.  While sympathetic about some of the locked up staff, Eliza fills Newgate in on what life was like at Stonehearst prior to the overthrow, and viewers are treated to scenes of the medical treatments one might imagine happening in a 19th-century mental asylum including patients being subjected to nausea machines and doused repeatedly in water.  I couldn’t watch the forced tube feeding scene.  And as the movie progresses, troubled Dr. Lamb, despite his clear disdain and physical suffering from it, resorts to using some of the same barbaric treatments on the staff locked below.

Besides the scenes that inspire appreciativeness of today’s humane mental health treatment, there are some touching scenes too though such as Newgate’s successful attempt at compelling a starving patient to finally eat on her own.

1418510395_4For the most part, however, I wasn’t that impressed with this film.  More action than substance, viewers get to watch one predictable obstacle after another stop Newgate as he tries desperately to keep Dr. Lamb from realizing that he knows the truth, as well as save the hospital staff and get Eliza to leave with him, as, very much unlike a doctor, he is in love with her.

I was ready to write this film off as a complete disappointment – until I got the end.  If you like a horror movie with a happy ending, this one definitely delivers.  More than that though, it has an ending that I never saw coming and was a complete surprise.  I like surprise endings and while the one in Stonehearst Asylum wasn’t enough to change my opinion of the entire movie, it did make me glad I stuck it out.




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Meghan Hogan

I'm just a freelance writer who, amongst other things, loves a good scary movie.