(US - 2014)
Directed by Brad Anderson. Written by Joe Gangemi. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Sinead Cusack, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Guillaume Delaunay, Edmund Kingsley. (PG-13, 112 mins)
With the release of his 1998 breakthrough NEXT STOP WONDERLAND, director Brad Anderson was the latest in a seemingly endless parade of Miramax's Next Big Thing wunderkinds in the '90s indie-film explosion. But the field got far too crowded to compete and since 2001's SESSION 9, Anderson has been known primarily as a suspense and/or horror filmmaker when he wasn't paying the bills by taking TV directing gigs on shows like THE WIRE, FRINGE, TREME, and BOARDWALK EMPIRE. THE MACHINIST (2004) and TRANSSIBERIAN (2008) earned Anderson significant acclaim if not mainstream success, and after misfiring with the terrible VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (2011), he rebounded with his first box office hit, the Halle Berry suspense thriller THE CALL (2013), which opened strong before falling apart and turning into a stupid revenge thriller. Anderson's latest film is the intriguing STONEHEARST ASYLUM, dumped in six US cities and on VOD by Cannon cover band Millennium with the opening credits still sporting--at least in the VOD edition--its original title, ELIZA GRAVES, which is a telling indication of how much support the film is getting from its distributor.
DR. TARR'S TORTURE DUNGEON (1973) and Jan Svankmajer's LUNACY (2005), and the idea has turned up in various films over the years, such as the anthologies ASYLUM (1972) and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973), not to mention a kickass 1976 jam by The Alan Parsons Project. Scripted by Joe Gangemi, who also wrote 2007's effective and little-seen WIND CHILL, Anderson's film takes place in the late 1890s, with Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arriving at the titular location in the middle of nowhere in rural England. He hopes to gain clinical, hands-on experience as an alienist--a specialist in asylum medication--and is to work under the facility's superintendent Dr. Silas Lamb (Anderson's TRANSSIBERIAN co-star Ben Kingsley). Almost all of Lamb's patients come from the aristocracy, dumped at the asylum by their prominent families and promptly forgotten as embarrassments and outcasts with such afflictions as epilepsy, "incurable homosexuality," and chronic masturbation ("I've never seen the harm in chronic masturbation," Lamb concedes in one of the film's numerous bits of dark humor). Lamb's unorthodox treatment of his patients allows them to basically roam free inside the facility, with close supervision by his strong-arm, Mickey Finn (David Thewlis). The sympathetic Newgate takes particular interest in the beautiful Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), committed to Stonehearst by her father after she attacked her abusive husband, gouging out an eye and biting off an ear. Eliza claims she's not insane and Newgate believes her, but he stumbles onto a bigger problem when he discovers filthy, malnourished prisoners being kept in a dungeon underneath Stonehearst. The leader of these prisoners identifies himself as Dr. Salt (Michael Caine), and claims to be the real superintendent of Stonehearst Asylum, explaining that Lamb led a revolt among the inmates and took over, imprisoning Salt and the staff in the secret dungeon.