Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray review: Poe meets Hammer

Classic horror is evoked in Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum

Stonehearst Asylum director Brad Anderson has very clearly seen Shutter Island. That much is apparent as soon as graduate alienist Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the titular institution and encounters Ben Kingsley’s unsettling superintendent, Silas Lamb.

But while Kingsley’s sinister psychiatrist is similar to his character in Martin Scorsese’s 2009 film, Stonehearst Asylum sets itself apart thanks to its source material – it draws heavily from an Edgar Allan Poe short story – and its embracing of the Hammer horror aesthetic in all its schlocky glory.

The film is enhanced by a stellar cast, including Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine and Brendan Gleeson, as well as some suitably lavish gothic set and costume design.

Kingsley and Caine both ham up their respective white coat-clad eccentrics, and David Thewlis plays a particularly odious groundskeeper, but while it’s all reasonably good fun, the film struggles to create any palpable sense of unease or suspense.

While Anderson does manage to deliver a serviceable psychological thriller alongside the parade of seasoned British (and Irish) thesps, once the initial intrigue surrounding Stonehearst evaporates, what’s left is a fairly by-the-numbers mystery.

There’s no shortage of twists, but in the absence of any directorial flair,   is forced to rely on the strength of its characters. And while the nature of Lamb’s madness provides an interesting sub-plot, the romance between Newgate and troubled inmate Eliza adds little.

It’s a shame, because all the makings of a great genre film are present and accounted for, and the moments when it explores the troubling relationships between the institution’s doctors and patients are genuinely compelling.

But while these elements ensure the film largely overcomes its clunky dialogue and halting pacing, they also stand out as frustrating reminders of what might have been.