STONEHEARST ASYLUM – Blu-ray review

A Gothic thriller that wears its humble aspirations proudly, like a grimy but well-tied cravat, “Stonehearst Asylum” has pretty much everything one could expect from a period piece with the word ‘asylum’ in the title. All that, and Ben Kingsley, too.

Jim Sturgess plays Edward Newgate, a young physician who arrives at Stonehearst in search of his first position. He meets the asylum superintendent, Dr. Lamb (Kingsley), who has progressive ideas about the treatment of mental illness, different than the previous head, played by Michael Caine. He also meets a patient there, the dark and willowy Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), whose condition intrigues him and whose beauty catches his eye. But all is not what it seems at the asylum, and as Newgate uncovers the truth about Lamb and his staff, he has to risk his own sanity to set things right and save Eliza.

So those things you expect— shadowy great rooms, dank basements, some sort of brutal and primitive mental treatment, bad teeth mouthing melodramatic crazy-talk, and an evil, coal-dust covered guard screaming “don’t drink the champagne!” Okay, maybe not that last one. But trust me, that’s a highlight.

Director Brad Anderson seems to understand what he’s got here, and does his best to make it, if not intriguing, at least not a disappointment. The plot mechanics are routine: the big secret that Newgate rather slowly figures out will surprise no one, even if you didn’t read the disc case text, and much is made out of a lot of slender incident. But there is definite genre relish taken in the expensive-looking sets, the blustering pace, and the general atmosphere of seedy, unstable menace.

Kingsley is terrific as usual, brimming with that particular glittering malice he has made his own. Sturgess is good value for money in a role that should be less interesting that it is, given that he’s saddled with a vacuous Beckinsale as the object of his affection. Thewlis chews it up with mustard as Lamb’s demented henchman, jolting the film back to life at times with a gusto that’s right in tune with the overripe twists and turns.

So don’t let that claim of “from the mind of Edgar Allan Poe” fool you—“Stonehearst Asylum” is a forgettable but serviceable pleasure, and whatever its literary roots in some slender offering of the Gothic master, the words don’t matter as much as the mood.

Video:
The Blu-ray of “Stonehearst Asylum” is presented in 16 x 9 widescreen, and the disc transfer looks very good, with the shadowy hallways looking indeed deep and shadowy, and a bright feel to the occasional color pops. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.

Audio:
The audio track is a just fine 5.1 Dolby True HD, with the standard set-up options.

Extras:

  • the usual making-of featurette

Parting thoughts:
Handsome looking, and boasting good work by Jim Sturgess and the invaluable Ben Kingsley, the over-heated “Stonehearst Asylum” almost works despite itself.

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