When we first see Stonehearst Asylum it is shrouded in fog, and there is a raven croaking at the gate. A freaking RAVEN. That was the first sign to me, that this movie was not going to be your run-of-the-mill period chiller. And you know what? It delivers on every level. Start with a masterful cast playing vibrant, lurid characters, throw in a fast-paced, surprisingly fun script with enough twists to astound even the most astute viewer, and saturate it with some excellent atmosphere and mood, all shadows, secrets, and flickering candle lights!
Let's talk about the cast first, because what a cast it is. Jim Sturgess leads as Dr. Edward Newgate, who with his wimpy mustache and thick spectacles, seems the most unlikely-looking romantic lead in Hollywood. But its also a brilliant and stunning performance filled with surprising gravitas. Kate Beckinsale shocks everyone with a vulnerable and subtly beautiful performance as a 'chronic hysteric'. But it is Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. Silas Lamb that electrifies the entire screen and steals all of the scenes. All of them. I haven't seen a good actor have this much fun since Coppola's Dracula. Sir Ben is an acting BEAST in this movie. David Thewlis, Michael Caine, and Brendan Gleeson - all some of the greatest actors all to step in front of a camera, have memorable side roles, all hiding dark secrets and captivating the audience.
The performances are so electrifying, so subtle, so powerful and of so high a calibre, they elevate what could have easily been overblown Gothic camp or a boring chiller, into a thrilling spectacle unlike anything we've seen in a while. There are no black-or-white heroes or villains; the doctors are sometimes cruel, the lunatics are angry but pathetic. This allows for some unexpected real drama and truly interesting characters.
Then there's the plot, which is apparently an elegant and terrifying confection of madness, secrets, and twists and turns on every front. The setting could not be more ripe for horror. I mean, a Victorian lunatic asylum perpetually shrouded in fog and thunder? With RAVENS croaking at the spiked iron gates? But thankfully, STONEHEARST ASYLUM eschews the jump scare for the subtle build-up of dread, and blood and gore for mind games, dark secrets, hidden passages, and classy tension. Until that is, the Asylum and everyone in it goes mad. There's something timelessly macabre about two hundred lunatics madly dancing round a bonfire, or dancing to classical music, some swaying, some twitching, some manic, some merely pathetic.
STONEHEARST ASYLUM ain't perfect. There's some irking plot holes, and everyone's motivation is a bit muddled. There's one character who can apparently survive having a half ton of coal dropped on his head... But this is a really top-notch psychological thriller, which doubles as a moving discourse on madness and sanity, and the cruel practices of Victorian medicine. Not for those who like their films light and snappy, cool and easy. But if you like horror, suspense, Gothic, Edgar Allen Poe, or just a good old-fashioned, scary psychological thriller, I can't recommend this movie ENOUGH.
Five utterly mad, completely bonkers, absolutely insane stars.
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