Stonehearst Asylum—In this period melodrama, an ambitious young fellow (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the spooky, fog-shrouded title institution, late in 1899, asking to learn the ropes of the new field of psychology. The headshrinker in charge (Ben Kingsley) seems a decent, civilized sort, but soon the new guy realizes that this haven for wealthy crazies harbors a shocking secret.
It won’t be that much of a secret to those who have read Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” on which this absorbing, slyly old-school Gothic is based. But the twists are unraveled skillfully by director Brad Anderson and screenwriter Joe Gangemi, and the cast is hard to beat: Along with Kingsley, there’s Kate Beckinsale and Brendan Gleeson and David Thewlis—scary as the asylum’s enforcer—and even the great Michael Caine.
Stonehearst Asylum hits the tropes of the madhouse scare picture, but the subtlety of the script and of these actors brings this conventional material some troubling moral ambiguity and shifts in sympathy. It’s a small gem—a horror movie with heart.