Glasgow Film Festival: Brad Anderson's thriller is a star-studded misfire
The lunatics have quite literally taken over the asylum in Brad Anderson's latest, an inept effort that maintains some interest due to its overqualified cast. Anderson has form with mental hospital-set thrillers – having impressed with Session 9 back in 2001. However, for the director once responsible for Christian Bale’s hypnotic turn in The Machinist, this high-profile misfire represents another squandered opportunity. Promising ethical debate, Stonehearst Asylum (also known as Eliza Graves) instead delivers a constant stream of melodramatic gibberish.
Based loosely on an Edgar Allan Poe short story, the narrative features the comely Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), who resides in Stonehearst Asylum, a remote and intimidating mental hospital, circa 1900. Dr Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) presides over the inmates, but the arrival of medical school graduate Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) reveals a dark secret: the real doctors, including Dr Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine), are being held prisoner in the dungeons of the building and want Newgate to help get them out. As he finds himself improbably falling in love with Eliza, Newgate becomes embroiled in a battle of wits between Lamb and Salt, men divided on how best to treat those with serious mental health conditions.
Sturgess has gained a dubious reputation for phoned-in leading-man roles in expensive flops (Across the Universe, Upside Down, Cloud Atlas) and contributes another pallid performance here, not helped by the unfortunate juxtaposition with Caine and Kingsley's barnstorming turns. He isn't the worst offender though: David Thewlis’ hammy work as murderous henchman Mickey Finn lacks only a parrot on his shoulder to qualify as a Long John Silver impression. Despite the attempt at romance the film is as short on sensitivity to relationships as it is long on fiery deaths and brimstone moralising. While its intentions were probably high-minded, the only reaction Stonehearst Asylum is likely to induce is hoots of derisive laughter.
Screening on Thu 26 Feb (under the title Eliza Graves) as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 24 Apr.