Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

*. It’s advertised as coming “from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe,” which says less than the title credit, which has it “based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe.” In fact it’s more like one of those cases where a movie is “inspired by” an event or work of fiction. It owes almost nothing to Poe’s 1845 story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” aside from the conceit of lunatics taking over and running an asylum.
*. That’s a concept that has been recycled a few times on film (The Mansion of Madness, Don’t Look in the Basement) but never (at least in my experience) all that faithfully. I’m not sure if there’s enough matter to it, especially when the audience can be expected to already know the set-up.
*. Stonehearst Asylum does try its best to make the story fresh. The reveal that the patients have taken over occurs before the halfway point, so you know there has to be some new angle to make it work. Or two new angles, as it turns out.
*. The second of these has to do with a new twist they’ve added. I won’t give this away, as it comes quite late and I think it’s pretty good. Really far-fetched, but by that point I didn’t care.
*. The other new angle is the way the “real” authorities are presented, from our contemporary point of view, as sadistic morons, while the crazies are erratic but essentially good-natured and enlightened, at least until triggered or provoked. In as backward a world as nineteenth-century England, medicine was the real horror and crazy people were sane. Or at least they know there’s nothing wrong with masturbation. This alone lets us know they’re with us.
*. That’s a simplistic point to be sure, but it does provide a new entry point into the old story.
*. The casting of the representatives of these two respective positions doesn’t surprise. Michael Caine had already played an authoritarian in charge of an asylum in Quills, while Ben Kingsley had been an odd doctor we were never sure about in Shutter Island.
*. They got some good talent on board for this one, though I don’t think Kingsley, and especially Caine, are particularly exercised by their roles. I would say the same for David Thewlis and Brendan Gleeson. You’d think Kate Beckinsale, whose Eliza Graves was originally going to give the film its name, would have more to work with, but at the end of the day the movie doesn’t seem that interested in her. When she transforms into Underworld‘s Selene at the end it’s all a bit much, as though they just threw their hands in the air not knowing what to do.
*. Well, it’s not a terrible movie. It’s just not very good either. That’s all the faint praise I can muster.

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