Monday, 14 March 2016

Mini Monday! - Stonehearst Asylum

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film poster
Don't let the shoestring budget-porn poster fool you.
I don't post often enough. I know, it's a real tragedy for us all; and the reason for this is often due to the long, tangential prose that I'm prone to writing. To correct both this and the issue of a rather sparse posting schedule I've decided to start reviewing select films in a rather truncated 3-paragraphs-or-less. Concise, snappy, and never listing more than two synonymous adjectives at any one time. Without further ado, here's the first of hopefully many to come.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film lamp
Obligatory gothic-horror "character holding an oil lamp in a dank cellar" moment? Check.
To successfully portray old-fashioned medicine through the lens of a modern conscience is akin to trying to understand why 14-year old white girls on Tumblr are so angry all the time without being one of said 14-year old white girls; that is to say nigh impossible. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by Stonehearst Asylum's noble effort to do just so. With an insidiously star-studded cast, a rather sprightly 6.8 on IMDb, and drawing influence from the Gothic King himself, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, it is a thoroughly pleasant film to watch on a Thursday night after a bag of M&Ms and three gin and tonics. If the bracingly despicable Shitty Island were German supermarket own-brand 2-ply, then Stonehearst Asylum would be the infinitely more comfortable cheap branded 3-ply that's on buy one get 1/3 off fabric softener.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film hat outside
I pretty much exclusively know this actor as that guy who always tilts his head when he acts.
Acting-wise, there's A-listers bleeding out of the dank walls, all performing with the lackadaisical attitude of someone who was handed the script and a delicious sandwich and told to choose only one. But campy gothic period thriller is as campy gotherioller (ew, that didn't work) does, and the stunted performances bow out to make room for fog and plot, in that order. Young academic, weird asylum, creepy lead doctor, underlying mystery. It's all very expected but presented like a reasonably up-market free buffet; you're not going to complain. There's a few twists and plenty of atmosphere and I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself. Just try not to think too hard about the uncomfortable sub-plot of Jim Sturgess' doctor getting very fond of Kate Beckinsale alarmingly quickly.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film hysteria
When a lady convulses when you touch her, it probably means no. Unless under very particular circumstances.
The interesting bit for me, though, is the medicine. Stonehearst portrays a world flipped on it's head, where the patients have taken over the asylum (no relation to the great Ken Stott/David Tennant mini-series) and put in place a system of their own. Out goes the tortuous force-feeding and humiliating examinations and in comes space for patients to express themselves, to develop occupational skills, and to begin adjusting to normal life. It purposefully parallels with many of the tenants of modern psychiatric medicine, criticising the archaic methods of old and championing these new, then avant garde ideals. What's good is the way that they manage to present these changes from the point of view of the time; as terrifying, chaotic concepts literally dreamt up by a madman, but undeniably effective. It is here, however, that the film precariously straddles the borders of profoundness with it's well-intentioned ignorance. Despite suggesting that these methods are more beneficial to the patients the film also paints it as an unsustainable model, with the asylum gradually falling apart under it's new chaotic rule, as well as once again falling into the age-old trap (bad One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, bad!of believing that electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is some barbaric mind-wiping zap-magic. In the end, the message reflects the general "-ness" of the film: good, but not great.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film michael caine electroconvulsive therapy ECT
As good as any film that gives Michael Caine the same number of lines as a character who
believes he is a horse could hope to be.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

A Starbucks Hot Chocolate - Well presented and reasonably enjoyable but inherently flawed, leaving you with a metallic taste in your mouth and the wonder as to whether you really actually liked it.

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