Stonehearst Asylum (2014) Old Fashioned Gothic Romance Story

Stonehearst Asylum Film Poster
Directed by Brad Anderson (The Call, Transsiberian) and adapted for the screen by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill, Inamorata) from an Edgar Allen Poe short story (The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether) Stonehearst Asylum stars Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Total Recall), Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Ashes), David Thewlis (Macbeth, The Theory of Everything) along with Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley as well as some of England’s finest character actors like Jason Flemyng and Sinead Cusak. Set in 1899 just as the world is slipping into the 1900s; Beckinsale plays Lady Eliza Graves, a woman driven mad by her brutish husbands sexual demands on their wedding night.

This is the reason given for her incarceration, but in reality, she attacks her husband with a comb and puts out one of his eyes when he attempts to force her into sodomy.

A doctor known as an Alienist, played by Brendan Gleeson (28 Days Later, Safe House) parades Graves at a medical lecture where he induces her to have a fit by touching her “inappropriately.” Later, a young Alienist, Dr. Newgate, comes to Stonehearst Asylum to become the latest member of staff in the madhouse. The stone structure is out in the middle of nowhere and the first person the young doctor meets is Mickey Finn (Thewlis) who is disturbing to say the least.

Once inside, Newgate meets the Asylum head, Dr. Lamb (Kingsley) and learns that the doctor does not give drugs to the incarcerated patients and practices new and unusual treatments. The new doctor meets Lady Graves and later finds that Lamb and Finn are actually patients who overpowered the real staff and taken over. Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) and the remainder of the asylum’s professional care takers have been locked in cages in the building’s basement.

The look and feel of this 2014 film is a mixture of mystery, thriller and a good old fashioned romantic Gothic love story. Enough of the real inhuman treatments of the clinically insane are featured in the film and this marks the second time that Kingsley and Caine have worked together, the first being their Holmes and Watson double act in the 1988 film Without a Clue.

The sets and the lighting combine to create what looks to be a perfect recreation of the back end of the Victorian Era. Cinematographer Tom Yatsko (Gotham, The Day After Tomorrow) pulls out all the stops to make this film moody, atmospheric and Victorian. The only anachronism is the reference to slipping someone a Mickey Finn before the phrase became well known, as the setting is just prior to 1900 and the saying did not become popular until 1915 according to Wikipedia.

All the actors deliver brilliant performances. David Thewlis, who repeatedly plays roles so full of menace, does not disappoint as the mad lady-killer and Sturgess gives a wonderful turn as the love struck medico. Sir Ben Kingsley shows once again why he is an award winning actor and Michael Caine does the same. Beckinsale is appropriately stressed as the woman who freaks at a too-familiar touch and Brendan Gleeson is seen far too little.

A little nepotism is apparent in the casting, although not a lot as he does not appear until towards the end of the film, as Kingsley’s son Edmund plays the role of Sir Charles Graves, Beckinsale’s brutish screen husband whose sexual tastes drives her into the madhouse.

For anyone who adores British cinema (And who does not?) this is a 5 star film. Despite being set, very loosely, on a Poe short story, the movie feels as English as London fog. Streaming on US Netflix it is worth the time spent to watch it. Pop yourself some corn, grab a glass of fizzy and enjoy.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

28 Months Later “In the Works”

Poster for 28 Days Later For fans of the original Danny Boyle directed and Alex Garland written 28 Days Later, this could be very good news. Certainly Facebook is full of fans singing their little rage filled hearts out at the recent news that Garland released stating that the script for 28 Months Later has been finished and is in the works but he will have nothing further to do with it.

Alex talks backstory a bit, not on the new 28 Days story but about the path taken to get a sequel worthy of the original. In GamesRadar+ the screenwriter talks about Boyle’s talking about a Garland written sequel while he focussed upon Trainspotting 2 a couple of years ago.

In reference to the Gamesradar+ story, it should be pointed out that they call the film a “zombie” film, which, technically it is not, the films are post-apocryphal and has nothing to do with hordes of the undead.

At that time Alex said he would write it but did not want any active participation in the project. Producer Andrew MacDonald said that he would take care of it. Regardless of whether the writer wants to work on the project, hopefully this sequel should have the same tones of originality that the first one had in spades. The other thing that 28 Days Later had was that wonderfully haunting music, used in a number of other movies, most notably Kick-Ass where the soundtrack was updated for the “Big Daddy Kills” sequence.

While many still refer to the first two as “zombie” films; the scary attacking people in the verse are not, undead flesh eaters. In 28 Days Later the whole outbreak starts because a few animal rights activists go to release monkies who have been infected with Rage. This virus actually turns the primates into screaming murderous, and enraged, creatures who only want to attack. The virus is transferred to people and poor Cillian Murphy wakes up from a coma to find the world in London has changed for the worse.

The first film was brilliant, the cross plot of the Christopher Eccleston’s Army Major, “I promised them women,” and the Brendan Gleeson’s doomed fatherly cab driver, “Get away,” were just icing on the cinematic cake. Naomi Harris and Megan Burns as the women rounded out the casting for this haunting and damned scary film. Boyle proved once again to be the master of celluloid.

Poster for 28 Weeks Later Then came the “star studded” 28 Weeks Later. Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Idris Elba, Robert Carlyle and Imogen Poots, in what was her second feature film role, were stuck in an inferior version of Boyle’s and Garland’s Rage infested England. The first clue that this sequel would be lacking was the noticeable absence of both Boyle and Garland on the project. I liked the film because Carlyle was in it and he brought his own special magic to the role of the man who deserts his wife to the infected and then lies to his kids about it.

Jeremy Renner also made me a fan for life as the sniper with a heart and Idris Elba was not used enough. The story was a pallid follow up to the first film and it was a bit disappointing to not see anything of Murphy and Harris, or for that matter Burns, and their characters.

Apart from Garland’s admission that the script is standing by waiting to be greenlit, there is no further information about the project. Considering that the writer has also stated that no one, not even FOX were interested in doing another sequel after 28 Weeks Later does not bode too well for 28 Months Later.

If the film does get the go ahead, it is to be devoutly hoped that the studios do not forget the original premise and make the Rage infected attackers zombies. Let’s keep our film-lore straight here, this is not an English version of The Walking Dead. Hopefully more news will be released on the likelihood of this anticipated film being made, sooner rather than later.

28 Days Later…(2002) Don’t Get Mad

I will admit to becoming an instant fan-boy of director Danny Boyle after just one viewing of Shallow Grave (1994) and became a devout follower after watching (three times) Trainspotting (1996). So when I saw a trailer for 28 Days Later…  I could not wait to see the film. I knew Boyle would do a brilliant job in the Horror genre. The baby scene in Trainspotting so freaked me out that even after watching it three times, I had to cover my eyes half-way through. Unfortunately, I had to wait.

I had to because I worked nights, delivering newspapers. Six nights a week. So on my only day off, rather than see films at the cinema, I slept. All day. So  I had to wait for the video/DVD to come out and rent it. Even on the ‘small’ screen the film delivered. So much so that I bought the special edition DVD the minute it came on the market.

Boyle has taken the Zombie genre and shifted it slightly to the left. Because the zombies in 28 days Later…are not. They are mindless, they are going to eat you if they catch you, but, they are not dead.

28 Days later opens with multiple scenes of crowd violence and rioting in numerous countries. The camera moves back from the violence and we see a wall full of monitors all showing different forms of crowd violence. Strapped to a table in front of the monitors is a chimpanzee. The chimp has electrodes attached to it’s head. Three Animal Rights Activists break into the  animal testing centre where chimpanzees are  undergoing, what appears to be horrific tests.  The activists  are there to record for posterity the abuse the animals are receiving and to let the poor things go free. A lab technician tries to stop the activists explaining that they are all infected and highly contagious. The technician explains that all the chimps have been injected with an inhibitor called Rage. He also explains that it can be spread through saliva and blood.  The activist’s ignore his warning, and threaten him. The first poor creature they let loose  immediately attacks them. The activists are infected instantly.

28 days later bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed. He gets up and finds the hospital deserted. Leaving the hospital, he finds all of London is deserted.

So begins the film. 28 Days Later boasts a small cast. For a lot of the film we follow Jim, Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Megan (Megan Burns) as they flee London and head for an Army safe haven they have heard about on the radio. Constantly on the look out for infected people and ready to run at a moments notice. It seems that Rage was very contagious, with most of the population either suffering from it or getting killed from the infected.  While the four are travelling cross country we bond with them just as they bond with each other. When they reach what looks like their destination, it appears deserted. The Army vehicles are empty, the outposts are deserted and civilian vehicles litter the motorway. Frank makes everyone stay put and he starts searching for people who are not infected.

He walks up to a pylon where a crow is pecking at a dead soldier. A drop of blood falls from the infected body and hits Frank in the eye. The change is immediate. He has gotten the Rage virus. As he moves to attack the remaining three people in his party, an shot rings out. The cavalry arrives in the form of a small rag-tag group of soldiers. They are lead by Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) who after dispatching Frank gives the survivors a lift to where the rest of the soldiers are bivouacked.

The small group of Army men are using a deserted mansion that the soldiers have fortified against the infected.  When the small group arrive at the mansion the Major takes them on a tour of the house. They all begin to feel uneasy when, as part of the tour, the Major shows them one of his men who has been infected. They have chained him up behind the house for “observation.”  This “observation” seems to be the soldiers taunting their infected mate and beating him when he comes near. The uneasiness that the three feel is for a good reason. Unfortunately The soldiers have not saved all three of the group at all.  It is revealed that the only way the Major West could get the soldiers to stay was to promise them women. Jim is taken out to be executed and Selena and Hannah, who is only about thirteen, are taken upstairs to get ‘presentable’ as a prelude to gang rape.

Jim escapes his executioners and makes his way back to the mansion. Once there he lets the infected soldier loose. While the infected is rushing through the mansion to kill his former colleagues, Jim goes to rescue the two girls.

This film was an adrenaline pumping, heart stopping film. The music in the film helped to set the mood. Especially the use of In the House, In the Heart which has been used at least twice more in other films. The music makes us the audience feel sad, lost and, as I’ve said in another blog, slightly melancholy. The film was very low budget, but it doesn’t feel like a low budget feature. The actors all give brilliant performances and really help to sell the story.

If you were to make a list of Films that just have to be seen, 28 Days later …would be at the top of the list.