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Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray Review

Stonehearst Asylum (2014) movie poster Stonehearst Asylum

Theatrical Release: October 24, 2014 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Brad Anderson / Writers: Joe Gangemi (screenplay), Edgar Allan Poe (short story)

Cast: Kate Beckinsale (Eliza Graves), Jim Sturgess (Dr. Edward Newgate), David Thewlis (Mickey Finn), Brendan Gleeson (Alienist), Ben Kingsley (Dr. Silas E. Lamb), Michael Caine (Dr. Benjamin Salt), Jason Flemyng (Swanwick), Sophie Kennedy Clark (Millie), Sinιad Cusack (Mrs. Pike), Edmund Kingsley (Charles Grave), Robert Hands (Elegant Lady), Ciara Flynn (Farmer's Daughter), Christopher Fulford (Paxton), Guillaume Delaunay (Arthur Timbs/Ogre of Oxbridge)

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Stonehearst Asylum loosely adapts Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 short story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." We open at Oxford University in 1899, where an "alienist" (that's ancient vernacular for psychiatrist) (Brendan Gleeson in his first of just two scenes)
does a bit of show and tell with Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a 35-year-old woman suffering from chronic hysteria who insists she is not insane.

We next encounter Ms. Graves at the remote titular English institution, where on a foggy Christmas Eve of the same year, young Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives to begin the clinical experience phase of his training. A recent graduate of Oxford, Edward is not fully expected by the staff of the countryside facility, his letter of intent having been lost in the mail. Nonetheless, superintendent Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) welcomes the assistance.

Lamb explains that the mental patients here, who suffer from the usual things like epilepsy and "incurable homosexuality", all come from the finest families in Europe. Lamb's modus operandi isn't so much to cure these individuals, but to keep them happy by indulging their delusions. Lamb's is an unusual staff, which includes the aforementioned Ms. Graves, whose piano-playing lifts spirits, a boy-crazy teenager (Sophie Kennedy Clark), and a sketchy fellow by the name of Mickey Finn (David Thewlis).

Not all is what it seems to be at Stonehearst Mental Asylum for Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) and Mrs. Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale).

Warning: The next paragraph might constitute a spoiler, so feel free to skip it, but what it describes occurs before the halfway point of the movie.

On his first night there, Edward realizes all is not as it seems when he discovers a dungeon with people in cages. These starving, miserable, unfortunate souls (led by Michael Caine) insist they are not mad, but are in fact the Asylum's true staff, overthrown and placed in captivity by the lunatics who are now running the place. Edward believes them and confides in Eliza, who confesses his secret findings are accurate. Restoring order won't be easy, though, with Lamb and staff's methods of memory-erasing shock therapy and regular druggings.

Stonehearst Asylum wields an awful lot of famous, accomplished actors for something that arrived and left American theaters in the blink of an eye. It's an all-British cast and perhaps there is no one you'd feel comfortable calling a movie star (Beckinsale comes closest and thus takes top billing in the secondary role that gave the film its working title). Director Brad Anderson, an American, has worked extensively in television drama in recent years (e.g. "Fringe", "Boardwalk Empire", "The Killing"), but he has a number of theatrical credits to his name as well, including The Machinist (starring a dangerously thin Christian Bale as an insomniac), the commercially successful Halle Berry movie The Call, and his name-making 1998 indie Next Stop Wonderland.

Despite all the talent (which also includes Mel Gibson as a producer), the film (then still called Eliza Graves) was acquired at the 2012 American Film Market by Millennium Films, a studio that has not had much success in its first four years of theatrical distribution. Instead of trying to make this mainstream PG-13 thriller work in limited release, Millennium opted for a super limited theatrical release in October day and date with a Video on Demand debut. The stigma of such an approach is disappearing, but it still functions as a warning sign.

Asylum superintendent Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) does not consider madness curable. Dungeon prisoner Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine) claims that he should be running the place.

Such warning is unfortunate here because while nothing exceptional, Stonehearst is certainly a passable thriller. On the other hand, the essentially direct-to-video nature of the film might just disarm potential viewers to the point of pleasant surprise.

Stonehearst resembles Shutter Island, not simply because of its two-word title, its similar use of Sir Ben Kingsley,
and its cast of Scorsese veterans. This is kind of like a less artful PG-13 Victorian England version of that winter 2010 hit. Shutter overcame some genre prejudices, though not enough to be remembered as it should have been by critics and awards at the end of its year (in fairness, a delayed February opening required memory-stretching almost unprecedented in this industry).

Stonehearst is not nearly as good as Shutter, but it is cut from a similar cloth. Nicely designed and photographed in Bulgaria, the ambitious film wields too much substance to be ruffled by its gimmicky plot and genre leanings. True, you're just waiting for more twists as you watch and expecting them to be preposterous. For better or worse, you might not be disappointed on that front, although if Shutter is on your mind, you might very well not be taken by complete surprise.

Less than two months after premiering in North America, Stonehearst hits physical media next Tuesday in reasonably-priced separate Blu-ray and DVD editions.

Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 16, 2014
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD ($19.99 SRP) and on Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Millennium treats Stonehearst Asylum to top-notch picture and sound on Blu-ray. The studio defies its spotty track record and presents the film in its original 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Though the film seems far better suited for film than digital video, the production values still shine in the sharp, detailed picture.

Sound design is prominently billed in the opening credits, hinting at the importance the film places on that. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix does a nice job of distributing the elements cleanly and consistently. A Dolby Stereo 2.0 English track is also offered, as are English SDH subtitles, which take the unusual extra step of positioning dialogue and sounds to match the character from which they originate.

Director Brad Anderson talks about this movie among whose crew he is the only American. Michael Caine looks like he's checking out Kate Beckinsale on the Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's main bonus feature is "Stonehearst Asylum: The Story of Eliza Graves" (5:37, HD), a short making-of featurette. In it, screenwriter Joe Gangemi, director Brad Anderson,
and leading cast members discuss the story and characters. We also get a few glimpses at the Bulgarian production.

In addition, Stonehearst's SD theatrical trailer (2:23) turns up in a Previews section, joined by individual access to the also SD disc-opening trailers for Automata, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Are You Here, and Fading Gigolo.

The menu plays clips within a rectangle in a design adapted from the cover art. The disc doesn't allow you to set bookmarks, but does effortlessly resume unfinished playback of the film and featurette.

It must be said that cover art, which also adorns an embossed, textured slipcover, is a big downgrade from the scarcely-seen theatrical poster.

On display at Oxford University, Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) insists she's not really mad.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Stonehearst Asylum merits a look for those intrigued by the cast, source, setting or genre. It is a mediocre thriller with hints and flashes of a much better film. At the very least, it looks nice, sustains an appealing atmosphere of suspense, and puts gifted actors to agreeable use. Millennium's Blu-ray is basic, but it still stands as the best way to give the film the one viewing it deserves.

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Related Reviews:
Jim Sturgess: Upside Down • 21 • Across the Universe • The Way Back • The Other Boleyn Girl
Ben Kingsley: Hugo • A Common Man • Iron Man 3 • Tuck Everlasting | David Thewlis: The Fifth Estate • Life Is Sweet
Kate Beckinsale: Vacancy • Everybody's Fine | Michael Caine: Now You See Me • The Muppet Christmas Carol • Deathtrap
Sophie Kennedy Clark: Philomena | Directed by Brad Anderson: The Killing: The Complete First Season
The Raven • The Prestige • Sherlock Holmes • The Calling • Houdini

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Reviewed December 10, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2014 Icon Productions, Sobini Films, Millennium Films, and Millennium Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.