Release Date(s)2014 (December 16, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D-
[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the film.]
Stonehearst Asylum (filmed under the title of Eliza Graves) was released in 2014 to a mixed reception from both critics and audiences. Directed by Brad Anderson (Session 9 and The Machinist), the film stars Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, and Brendan Gleeson.
Loosely based upon the short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” by Edgar Allan Poe, Stonehearst Asylum tells the tale of Dr. Edward Newgate (Sturgess), who has recently arrived at the aforementioned asylum. There he meets Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), patient Eliza Graves (Beckinsale), and Lamb’s right-hand man Mickey Finn (Thewlis). After witnessing Lamb’s treatment of his patients, Newgate slowly begins to realize that things aren’t what they seem and, with the help of Dr. Benjamin Salt (Caine), he slowly unravels the truth of what is really going on.
It should now be duly noted that I can’t properly talk about this film without getting into any major spoilers, so if you were intending to see this film and wish to remain ignorant of the story details, especially concerning the film’s ending, then read no further.
Now then, Stonehearst Asylum is a film that probably reads better on paper than it does on film, and considering its literary source, it’s not hard to understand why. This is certainly not a straight adaptation of the original Poe story, but the main plot and some of the story ideas are very much present. That being said, it’s my belief that the writer of this film was trying a little bit too hard to conceal the mystery before revealing it with the film’s twist ending, which is actually the most disappointing aspect of the film as a whole. Never mind that some of the character motivations and the actors’ performances are lackluster, or that the story itself is quite predictable, but that twist ending really damages the entire experience as a whole.
As it turns out (again, spoilers), Dr. Newgate isn’t actually who he says he is. He’s actually a mental patient himself, posing as a doctor in order to get to Eliza after seeing her once and falling in love with her. All of this is revealed by the actual Dr. Newgate (Brendan Gleeson) after Eliza and faux Newgate leave the asylum after getting it back under control and out of the hands of Dr. Lamb. In the film’s final moments, we find them at, yet, another asylum. It appears to be set in Italy in a beautiful countryside and they have both taken on new identities: Dr. Lamb and Mrs. Lamb. There they allegedly carry on with the real Dr. Lamb’s treatment by allowing patients to roam free and permitting them to live out their mental states. Actually, that last part is nothing more than a mere theory from myself. The ending doesn’t provide you with a concrete answer as to exactly what the hell is going on. But my question is this: these two escape from a mental institution to... live in another mental institution? Other than to assume their new identities (which they didn’t technically have to do), there’s not much reason for two star-crossed mental patients to want to flee from an asylum just to enter into another.
But the thing is, I could let this go if it was set up a bit better, or if indeed, there was any sort of set up at all. It’s a twist ending that’s never really earned because there are no concrete clues or even inklings of the faux Newgate character having any alternate intentions or being pathological at all. We have some vague ideas that he might have had a dark past of some kind, but nothing leading us to the conclusion that he’s an escaped mental patient. The real Dr. Newgate, after discovering of faux Newgate’s presence at the asylum after his escape says “he stole my identity.” But, if you really think about it, removing that one piece of information wouldn’t change the story at all. It feels tacked on, sloppy, and unfulfilling, leaving you unsatisfied with many questions, and not in a good way.
Stonehearst Asylum isn’t devoid of merit though. It’s actually a very good idea for a film. There’s some lovely cinematography, some decent performances, and some nice ideas, but overall, it ends up feeling very ho-hum. And being that it’s based upon a story by Edgar Allan Poe, I couldn’t help but wonder what it could have been if it had been made into a Roger Corman film with Vincent Price starring in Ben Kingsley’s role. The story has the kind of feel of The Fall of the House of Usher to me, and it could have been a wonderful film indeed. As such, the film is still worth seeing, but will probably leave you feeling disgruntled.
The Blu-ray presentation of Stonehearst Asylum features a very strong transfer, but has been aggressively graded digitally to appear very drab and dim. As far as image detail is concerned, it’s quite abundant; both foreground and background elements are very sharp and precise. Colors are very muted, but aesthetically so, and as a consequence, skin tones never appear completely natural. Black levels are very satisfying and deep, and contrast levels are quite satisfactory. There is a touch of edge enhancement present, but not an overburdening amount of it. As for the soundtrack options, you get an English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track and an English 2.0 Dolby Digital track. The lossless 5.1 track is quite immersive. Dialogue is always the main focus, clean and clear, while the sound effects and score have some great speaker to speaker activity. Ambient noises fill the surround speakers, as does the film’s score, all with the aid of some excellent LFE. It’s a strong visual and aural presentation, overall. There are also subtitles in English SDH and Spanish for those who might need them.
Unfortunately, the only extras are a five-minute making-of featurette and a set of trailers for other Millennium titles, as well as the film’s original theatrical trailer. I guess one shouldn’t expect much from a film that winds up being disappointing in the end. You can certainly find allusions and similarities to Shutter Island, especially due to Ben Kingsley’s presence in both films, but the devil is in the details as to why this film eventually fails. It’s certainly worth at least one viewing, and the presentation on this Blu-ray is no slouch, but I’d suggest shutting it off before the twist ending comes along to have a more satisfying experience.
- Tim Salmons