Stonehearst Asylum ****Dir: Brad Anderson. With: Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson. 112 mins. Cert: 15
The latest knowing genre item from director Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, The Call) has the advantage of superior source material: riffing on Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, it dispatches idealistic doc Jim Sturgess to a remote fin-de-siècle institution where the boundaries separating inmates from custodians prove porous at best. Wielding a budget ample enough to bring this murderous upstairs-downstairs tumult to ghoulish life, Anderson stocks each scene with so many eccentric homegrown performers that events soon resemble a Gothic Gosford Park. The throwback, character-centric approach affords everyone – from rival shrinks Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine to David Thewlis’s leering steward and Sophie Kennedy Clark’s naughty nurse – their moments of madness, while Anderson’s laudable resistance to the usual bangs and crashes preserves Poe’s subtler ironies and resonances: Dr. Freud would surely have been rather taken by Sturgess’s dinky Derringer. You’ll watch this supremely entertaining danse macabre wearing the broadest of connoisseurial smiles.
Stonehearst Asylum opens in selected cinemas today, and is also available on demand.