With Stonehearst Asylum, director Brad Anderson doles out a vintage Halloween treat — a straightforward Poe adaptation of the sort that Vincent Price used to star in — and gives it a freshness and complexity that make it a delight. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) is a young doctor arriving at Stonehearst on the eve of the 1900s to get experience treating the mentally ill.
He’s met by Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley), an alienist with unusual methods, and Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a troubled, talented pianist with whom Newgate is immediately smitten. Yet something’s not right, and we soon learn why: Lamb is an inmate who staged a revolt, and the real staff (including head doctor Michael Caine) is locked in a dungeon while lunatics, both dangerous and benign, roam freely above.
Complicating matters is that Lamb seems much more humane in his methods than the primitive psychiatry of the era, getting better results by eschewing torturous aversion therapies…and yet he shows little mercy to the imprisoned hospital staff, enlisting a thuggish maniac (David Thewlis) as his enforcer.
Anderson never forgets that his primary job is ratcheting up the suspense, but the implicit criticism of psychiatry without compassion makes this confection unusually filling. Vincent Price never had it so good.