And that my friends pretty much sums up the rather thin interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND MR. FETHER as transformed into a screenplay and made into the movie, STONEHEARST ASYLUM.
We’re talking killer cast here; Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, and Sophie Kennedy Clark. The real crime here is the script. The film is loosely based on Poe’s short story but fails to instill the thriller aspects Poe so aptly imbedded in his tales. Here we have a very over-the-top set design, seriously could you get any more shrouded-in-fog Gothic than the monstrous castle known as Stonehearst Asylum. This particular asylum was the closet and shelf where famous and wealthy families hid away their unstable family members; meaning there were your garden variety of hysterics, depressives, incurable homosexuals and homicidal murderers.
Dr. Edward Newgate, a recent Oxford graduate arrives at the gates of Stonehearst only to be greeted by three gun-toting, unshaven, unwashed, gap toothed crazies. Any normal person would have turned and fled but our sincere Dr. Newgate ventures forth, eager to gain some clinical experience so he might complete his training as an Alienist. I would say within the first 10 minutes of the film the audience is quite aware that indeed the lunatics are running the asylum”.
As with every thriller, one can expect twists and turns, unfortunately, the film is very predictable and the characters although bravely embraced by the likes of Kingsley and Caine, are merely clones we’ve seen before. Without making this into a real spoiler, let me point out that the lack of dimension and character development is best exemplified by the scenes between Sturgess and Beckinsale are repeats of the first scene. He wants to take her away, he wants to take her away, he wants to take her away.
It’s saddening to think such stellar performers as Kingsley and Caine are reduced to acting in a film clearly destined to achieve DVD status before the year runs out. I’m not holding out much hope for Michael Caine in the upcoming movie Interstellar because he is billed below Matthew McConaughy and Ann Hathaway and in fact, there isn’t even a character noted next to his name. Maybe he’s a narrator; That would be fine, I love his voice.
If you like mild thrillers, not much gore, and seeing a great cast go to waste, then you should go see Stonehearst Asylum but if you’re more inclined to spend that $35.oo (2 adult tickets in NYC) on something more substantial, then I suggest you wait a while and rent it!