“We're all mad Dr. Newgate. Some are simply not mad enough to admit it.”
Set in a mental institution during the end of the 19th century it’s hard not to compare this gothic thriller to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Whereas Scorsese managed to create a film with an eerie atmosphere full of intrigues and thrills, Stonehearst Asylum fails to do so. It seems to have the perfect setting and cast to do so, but director Brad Anderson (known for The Machinist) isn’t able to come up with a compelling script. There is a scene during the opening of the film where a young doctor played by Jim Sturgess arrives at this gothic asylum and the atmosphere seems ideal for a great suspenseful thriller, but the story never seems to catch on with the visuals and the atmosphere is lost. It isn’t enough to make a film with a gothic look if the story isn’t engaging, and this movie is proof yet again that a talented cast doesn’t always make for a good film. Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine all star in this film which should automatically make it worth giving it a watch, but unfortunately the script doesn’t do anything to make their characters interesting. The film is based on Poe’s short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, but the adaptation to the big screen doesn’t necessary make for a good watch.
The plot revolves around Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) who arrives at a remote mental institution to offer his assistant. Despite his young age, he is eager to help these mentally ill patients and Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) greets him with enthusiasm. Edward realizes that Lamb’s methods are a bit unorthodox as he allows his patients to run around freely in the institution helping around with the chores. Mickey Finn (David Thewlis) is Lamb’s right hand man, but he seems a bit unstable and many of the patients seem to fear him. When Edward meets Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a patient who seems very enlightened and educated, he immediately becomes infatuated with her. She seems to have issues with touch and intimacy, but at the same time she is also a very caring individual who looks after some of the patients in the ward. Early in the movie there is a twist that I won’t give away, but where Edward is introduced to some other characters among which is Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine) who makes a very interesting claim that could change everything he has come to believe about the asylum.
I think the revelation in the film is made too early on and it takes away from some of the suspense it could’ve benefited from. Once the reveal is made the film seems to lose some of the tension and it becomes a bit predictable along the way. It is a shame because there was an interesting cast to work with here. As stunning as she is in this film, Beckinsale doesn’t get much to do other than simply captivate audiences with her looks. Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine are such wonderful actors that I could’ve used more face off between the two. The film continues to deliver some twists along the way, but they never do anything to build the suspense. It has the right look, but it simply doesn’t transmit the suspense and the gothic atmosphere it so desperately tries to establish.