Overview: Edward Newgate arrives at the Stonehearst insane asylum fresh from Oxford only to discover that its modern take on treating mental illness is a result of a a shocking turn of events. Based on the short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” 2014, Millennium Films, rated PG-13, 112 minutes.
The Hits: Director Brad Anderson did several things right in his adaptation of one of Poe’s lesser known works, all of which present a challenge to translate from the page to the screen. The first is his decision not to modernize the story. In creating a period piece, Anderson manages to preserve the Gothic elements of the film along with the shock of the medical experiments used to treat mental illness would have been lost in a modernized version of the story.
Anderson also doesn’t shy away from the twisted and bizarre elements that are present in all of Poe’s writings, which can easily become a flamboyant, jumbled mess if treated with too broad of a stroke, and restrained and dull if whittled down to a cookie cutter format. Stonehearst Asylum dishes out the crazy along with the shocking moments and the macabre atmosphere that saturates the entire film.
Another check in the win column is the use of the cast, namely Ben Kingsley as Dr. Silas Lamb and Jim Sturgess as Edward Newgate. Kingsley in particular demands the screen with his haunting instability and his unhinged intelligence and sense of what qualifies as inhumane, which causes the audience to become unsure as to whether he is the most insane or the most brilliant character in the film.
The Misses: Edward Newgate’s whirlwind romance with Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) seems disjointed and out of place in a story that’s otherwise a clear cut psychological thriller. The love affair never feels quite right, although it’s necessary as a tie in to the major twist in the finale, which is also underwhelming. The revelation is effective enough, and it makes sense, but it’s ultimately irrelevant and has little impact on the film as a whole, neither detracting nor adding to the finished product. And shouldn’t a twist be more than that?
Overall: Although not all of the elements are successful, Stonehearst Asylum makes for an overall entertaining and occasionally chilling Poe adaptation.