Where to start? It’s difficult to talk about Stonehearst Asylum as it has so many twists in the plot that I don’t want to spoil them. The film itself is pretty average but with some really interesting surprises which is really what keeps the film going and held my interest. I’m always happy to come across a film where the plot is beyond unpredictable. Add in some great casting and you have something worthy of notice.
Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, we are thrown back to 1899 and their archaic treatments for hysteria and insanity. Recent Medical Graduate Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), takes up a position at the Asylum, unaware of a recent horrifying staff change. He begins to fall for patient Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) and together they attempt to navigate the madness.
Obviously any film dealing with sanity is already intriguing and twists are expected, but I did not foresee all of them. There was some genuine surprising and slightly shocking moments, particularly when you realise that these ‘treatments’ were considered helpful. Hysteria is mentioned a lot throughout and is treated as an illness rather than a symptom. It is used to belittle and control the women characters. This means Kate Beckinsale’s character, though interesting, is underdeveloped. We are all aware of the scary truths of the past but that’s no excuse for a bland character. Eliza, of course, is beautiful and plays a large part of the plotline but does not feel like a real person. As I understand it we are supposed to question her sanity and whether she really belongs in an asylum but in reality she comes across as rather boring and unnecessary. Any sort of love story between Newgate and Eliza feels a little forced, if not slightly seedy.
It is interesting to watch a play of power shift between the characters and delve into the individual’s psyche. We are never really sure who the antagonist of the piece is and this makes the film really interesting and builds a lot of tension. The constant questioning of the characters’ morals and positions is what I enjoyed the most. We can never really settle on who we want to ‘win’ and it’s this guessing game that makes it stand out from other films on the same subject. I may have decided there isn’t actually a ‘bad guy’ and experiencing my own discovery journey makes the film feel much more real. They don’t look at insanity as a negative thing which is refreshing. It briefly explores the many ways a person can be considered ‘insane’ and clearly expresses the mentality people had to’ madness’ back then.
It is a massive jigsaw and with every turn of events a new piece is exposed, falling together wonderfully at the end. There was a lot of build up and the ending did not disappoint. The whole film feels a little odd but this only helps to create the atmosphere and pushes the story along. They offer up information so the audience can draw their own conclusions on the characters, relationships and what it means to be sane, or insane as the case may be.
Stonehearst Asylum is on UK cinemas from 24th April 2015