Call me crazy (no pun intended), but every time I look at the title of this film, its poster art and the fact that it stars Ben Kingsley, I just get Shutter Island on the brain. Is that fair to typecast this film instantly like that? I don’t think it is, but I can’t help the way my brain thinks sometimes. There are two reasons why I really wanted to see Stonehearst Asylum and was overjoyed when I learned I’d be reviewing it on the Blu-ray format. The first reason is obvious. It stars one of my favorite actresses, the forever beautiful Kate Beckinsale. And second, this film comes highly recommended from a co-worker of mine so I’m glad if nothing else that I’m finally having my first viewing of it on my favorite HD home media format, Blu-ray. So let’s talk some Stonehearst Asylum now!
Stonehearst Asylum is directed by Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, The Machinist, The Call). The film is billed as a haunter and features the all-star cast of Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor, Underworld series, Total Recall (2012)), Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, 21, One Day, Upside Down), Academy Award winner Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) and Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Shutter Island, Iron Man 3). How’s that for two logical sentences to sell you on at least settling down for a viewing of this movie?
The other aspect of this film I should probably point out right from the get here is the fact that it’s actually based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. In short, Stonehearst Asylum is a tale in which nobody is who or what they appear to be. To tell you ANYTHING more than that would be to spoil it for you. It’s one of those tales in my opinion, while not executed in the greatest of cinematic fashion and storytelling, actually does have a sweet payoff in the end rather than an abrupt cut to black leaving you wondering how to get those past two hours of your life back. Rest assured, life is too precious and short for those kind of films, at least for me they are. If this film were like that, I’d tell you to stop reading right now and move on, but it’s not. It’s quite decent and kind of makes me wonder why a film with this much talent involved pretty much came and went theatrically without any real notice. However, I digress. It is what it is.
After a quick intro scene, which will make more sense later on in the tale, our story really begins when young doctor Edward Newgate (Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Asylum for his apprenticeship in asylum medicine. He is welcomed by the asylum’s superintendent Dr. Lamb (Kingsley) and is acquainted with a woman, whose beauty he seemingly falls for upon first glance (I can’t blame the lad there), by the name of Eliza Graves (Beckinsale). Edward, who up until now thought everything was treatable by some form of medicine or another, is intrigued by Lamb’s modern methods of treating the insane until a rather rushed (in my opinion) series of events leads him to make a horrifying discovery. You’d be surprised what you find in old creepy basements. Long story short, Edward begins to question everything while falling deeper and deeper in infatuation with Eliza. Is Dr. Lamb really who he says he is? Heck! Is anybody in the asylum really who they say they are? What’s up with the people in the cages in the cellar? Those questions and so much more will eventually be exposed here!
As I said up above, there’s a lot I like about Stonehearst Asylum, however all that glitter isn’t always gold. What I honestly felt it lacked was failure to instill fear into the viewer. Sure, there’s a peril of fear for the character of Edwards and others whose names I cannot mention because of spoiler territory, but there are scenes I found ridiculous where I thought how cool it would have been to interject a bit more tension or heightened fear into. Despite my nitpicks here, there’s still a lot to praise Stonehearst Asylum about.
The acting is all top notch here. Did you think otherwise with the caliber of actors involved? It was hard for me to distinguish Kingsley from his similar role in Shutter Island, but that’s my problem not yours. The film has a very gothic feel to it and its wide cinematography really opened up things for me here. The Victorian medicine era (1899) set in an asylum atmosphere makes for a very creepy setting I just wanted to explore from room-to-room, but alas we were not given that chance. However, what works best for me, and I hate to keep bringing this up, was the film’s ending. There are plot twists and turns throughout so I applaud the filmmakers in that respect. While they weren’t all mind blowing, there’s no doubt in my mind that the ending will blow you away and make you feel stupid because you didn’t pick up on it in the first place. I love that about this film. I hope you do too!
Given the subject matter of Stonehearst Asylum, it’s not the best looking one on the Blu-ray format because of the dullness, but technically speaking it’s of artistic intent and merits an all-star score.
- Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Clarity/Detail: The detail in this one, despite the film’s dark subject matter and presence, is fantastic in my opinion. There’s fine detail in just about everything here from the woodgrain, chalk dust on a classroom board, pores in the faces and even stray hairs.
- Depth: Because of the fine details mentioned above, there’s that three-dimensional pop we all know and love from the Blu-ray format. I love the depth of field in the frozen, foggy forest scenes and even within the asylum itself. You get that feeling of spatial dimensionality.
- Black Levels: The black levels are deep and inky throughout. There’s a few iffy scenes, but nothing that I want to hold against this presentation.
- Color Reproduction: The colors because of the subject matter, with the exception of brightly lit scenes, are a bit dull and muted here throughout, but are all faithful to this presentation with their authenticity.
- Flesh Tones: Skin tones are all natural throughout here and not to sound racist at all, because I’m not, there’s lots of pasty whites to be found here. I’m just saying.
- Noise/Artifacts: I have zero qualms here. I did not notice any specs of noise, dirt or debris here at all.
The audio presentation, for what it’s worth, is almost perfect here. I only really had one beef with it so without further ado, let’s get cracking here and break everything down.
- Audio Format(s): English Dolby True-HD 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- Dynamics: I was enthusiastically impressed with how authentic sounding everything was presented here right down to the echoes throughout. Everything was well balanced and equally distributed from the quiet moments of the asylum down to the few bombastic moments of action.
- Low Frequency Extension: The bass levels are the only difficulties I had with grading this. I kept looking at my subwoofer channel, but it never really joined the mix until moments of thunder or action such as a few fight scenes, pounding and clanging. I kind of wanted more oomph here with the LFE channel interjected into the dynamics of it all.
- Surround Sound Presentation: Equally impressive here is everything that goes bump in the night behind you in the rear channels: the background noises, echoes, screams, thunder, rats scurrying and even the beautiful, yet haunting score by John Debney.
- Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue levels are all loud, clear and intelligible throughout. I really did not have a problem hearing anything spoken.
Sadly, while I would love to say everything is puppies and rainbows here, but it is not. There’s only one lonely extra to be had here, if you don’t count the various previews you can launch from the disc’s main menu. There’s no Digital Copy of any kind or DVD Frisbee to be found in this solo Blu-ray outing for Stonehearst Asylum. So with that being said, let’s take a closer look at this one extra here.
- Making-of (HD, 5:37) – For the most part, this brief extra features the actors, Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale and Michael Caine, talking about their roles and the story.
To make up for the lack of extras here I want to do something special for you. I’ve decided to at least share a picture with you of what the actual Blu-ray disc that houses this film looks like. Don’t say I never give you anything. Enjoy!
So there you have it. While it’s not an overly exciting entry for my 198th professional Blu-ray review of my career, Stonehearst Asylum is a movie I’m glad I finally had the chance to take in and a welcome addition to my home media collection, which I’m sure I’ll spin one day again soon if for nothing else just to get my Kate Beckinsale fill in life. Sporting top notch audio and video presentations, you can’t go wrong here with this Blu-ray’s low price if you’re either a fan of this film, obsessed with Kate Beckinsale (sadly she does not don any tight fitting pants or corsets in here) or interested in seeing an adaptation of a Poe story. Whatever your vice is, I hope you find it here. It’s not the greatest tale I watched recently, but thankfully the ending pulls it all together with its twist and better yet, does so with an all-star cast. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Thrills Blu-ray on December 16th!