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“STONEHEARST ASYLUM” (Blu-ray Review)

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As someone who has been with the horror genre so consistently over the course of his career, it’s a surprise that Brad Anderson is still one of the more underappreciated genre filmmakers working today. This is especially so considering his versatility among his projects, handing in a kinetic, mainstream thriller like THE CALL while also offering brooding suspense in SESSION 9 and off-kilter tension in STONEHEARST ASYLUM. And with STONEHEARST, Anderson takes on a bigger challenge than he’s yet to do: adapt the period-appropriate work of Edgar Allen Poe while maintaining a unique cinematic voice of his own.

Luckily for Anderson, and for Poe fans, the director pulls off STONEHEARST ASYLUM without a hitch, providing one of the more suspenseful and engaging genre offerings this year. Laden with spectacular performances, incredible production value and a genuinely compelling story, STONEHEARST ASYLUM follows a young doctor, who finds out his observance of the titular asylum may be more dangerous than imagined. Now, unfortunately, the marketing and box art for the film give away one of the major twists of the film, the definitive one as Poe fans would say, but fortunately, it doesn’t necessarily matter in the grand scale of the film, as there are many other twists from STONEHEARST that may still catch you by surprise.

While a technically straightforward movie, as per usual for the filmmaker, STONEHEARST ASYLUM benefits from that, as the film is very performance driven and gets its more terrifying moments from impending human horrors instead of brutality or shock. The script from Joseph Gangemi is especially impressive, considering the source material, and doesn’t feel as Poe-derivative as it does inspired by his concept and text; in so many words, Gangemi deals in substance over style, and the film is all the better for it. Thomas Yatsko’s cinematography is equally as impressive, especially considering the film was shot (at least partially) on digital video and yet still contains the epic scale of any major-budget period piece. However, that aspect may have also been elevated by John Debney’s great score, which completely adds to the whole presentation of the production and adds a layer of elegance to even the most intense sequences.

Yet, as with many Anderson productions, STONEHEARST ASYLUM excels most with the performances of its cast, which includes dependable stars and character actors alike. Jim Sturgess delivers an incredible performance, made even more complex considering the twists and turns his character takes over the film. While sometimes the weak link of the film, Kate Beckinsale offers much more than her beauty, including a shocking physicality and gusto that sells her particular brand of psychosis. And while the likes of Michael Caine, Jason Flemyng, David Thewlis, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Brendan Gleeson and Sinead Cusack all make incredible impressions throughout the film, there’s no one better than Ben Kingsley in an Anderson production, as the actor rarely appears as alive and committed to a character in a genre film as he does in STONEHEARST ASYLUM.

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And while the blu-ray of STONEHEARST ASYLUM (from Millennium Entertainment) gives curious viewers what they want, it’s difficult for this barebones release to not disappoint when it comes to special features. In terms of technical aspect, STONEHEARST offers incredible clarity and video quality (likely thanks to the digital cinematography on display) and a near-spotless audio transfer as well, which feels more impeccable than that offered by its VOD release. However, for those expecting more, there’s not even a commentary track to be had, with merely an assembly of trailers and a 5-minute making-of featurette as the only companions to the feature on this disc. And the featurette even isn’t that impressive, merely recapping aspects of the production that likely could have been assumed from the get-go.

However, based on the overall merits of the film and transfer alone, STONEHEARST ASYLUM is definitely a justified watch, especially considering Anderson is once again at the helm of a gripping genre tale. While Poe fans may appreciate the product even more, STONEHEARST contains enough solid performances and technical skill to guarantee both intrigue and tension. And for horror fans, perhaps STONEHEARST ASYLUM will be a chance to re-evaluate Anderson’s work as a whole, as its further justification towards his crown as a master of horror.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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