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Belittling Horror Excessively: Stonehearst Asylum04:18 PM -- Wed October 11, 2017

WARNING! This post contains extensive spoilers for this movie. Watch the movie before reading! Or don't. You have been warned.

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)
Rated PG-13
IMDB Says:
“An Oxford graduate takes up a job in a mental asylum, only to discover that the "revolutionary" new treatments are inhumane and that there is more going on than meets the eye.”
IMDB Rating: 6.8/10
Metacritic Rating: 52/100
Rotten Tomatoes: 53% critics, 49% audience
Solee: 5/5
Mikey: 4/5
We watched this on Netflix.

Mikey: Okay, looks like we have a Solee pick, and we start with our usual question: why Stonehearst Asylum?

Solee: I was flipping through the scary movies you’ve saved into our Netflix movie queue (thank goodness for Netflix profiles!) and the cast of this one caught my eye. Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale … all names I recognize and respect as actors. I figured with such a classy cast, it must be good. And after some of the movies we’ve seen recently, I was ready for good.

Mikey: Our second Kate Beckinsale of the month (The Disappointments Room), and we haven’t even tried an Underworld movie, which is where I always think of her from. Not so classy, that. And for that matter, this movie: not so horror. Right?

Solee: You and I have a different threshold for horror. Or rather, I don’t really care for horror so much as I do thrillers and mysteries. This had everything I like in a creepy movie - psychology, twists, murder, true love, etc.

Mikey: True love… more like obsession and lust. That was one of my issues (until the twist explained it): that he saw this woman for 2 seconds and decided she was the best thing ever. Um, that’s her looks you like. But anyway, I think this plot could’ve been horror, but there would be different directorial choices in making it. Darker, more mysterious, more shocking. I call this drama/thriller.

Solee: I agree. About the romance and the categorization. I particularly liked all the quotable lines in this film. “Death cannot be prevented … it’s a foolish physician who tries.” “We’re all mad, Dr. Newgate. Some are simply not mad enough to admit it.” Kingsley is easy to listen to.

Mikey: Yeah, he had a lot of clever soundbites about how to treat his patients well. I liked the twist that his treatment was actually better than the real doctor’s. But it was all so easy, that I feel like there’s a message there about how the quotable simple cures aren’t real. Not that Dr. Salt was doing the right thing (it was the 1800’s after all), but that feel-good claptrap might seem nice for a little while before it all falls apart.

Solee: OOH. I’m feeling almost as triggered as Dr. Lamb was at the use of the word “madness”! Just kidding, but my big take-away from this movie was almost exactly the opposite of that. I found much of what was happening at the asylum to be a good analogy for teaching these days. There is the way you’re trained to do it … and then there’s the way that treats students like human beings. And all my life I’ve dealt with the fact that those who can’t think outside the box think the ones who can are crazy for being willing to do so.

Mikey: Well, I think this movie seemed to start out with a simple idea: the “treat people like people” philosophy was just plainly better than the “drug them into oblivion” method. But as it went along, we saw the flaws. It all started to collapse, because these people weren’t normal, they needed special care, not to just be treated like anybody else. So what I saw there was kind of a plea for modern psychology - yes, throw away the barbarism and treat people with respect, but just going all the way to freedom and normalcy doesn’t cut it. Which is nuanced. I wrote one note that this movie seemed like psychiatry vs. psychology, though I think that’s much more simplified.

Solee: I think the same idea applies to most fields of study. Use new, proven methods, but don’t forget that we are always dealing with human beings. For some reason humans have a hard time with that concept.

Mikey: OH! I thought multiple times during this movie, and again during this discussion, of a podcast I heard recently. They were talking about a guy who has made it his mission in life to get all nursing homes shut down. To remove the very concept of a nursing home (he has some fancier model with more respect for the patient he’s working on). They talked about all kinds of statistics of how people die so much quicker when they go into a nursing home, and lose their faculties quickly and all that, and it all has to do with the way that nursing homes are so built around regular routine. The people have no new stimulation in their lives, everything is carefully built to prevent anything surprising and new, which just breaks you down. And I definitely saw that here. People languishing under solitary sedation, allowed to flourish with social interaction.

Solee: That makes a lot of sense to me. We are a society built around factory culture and it’s clearly unhealthy for our mental state. Did you notice how the movie suggested that electroshock therapy was invented by Dr. Lamb in order to punish Dr. Salt?

Mikey: Yeah, I wondered if he really invented it, or more likely it was one of Dr. Salt’s tools that he was claiming.

Solee: Oh, that makes more sense.

Mikey: Well, he was a doctor too, so who knows! Medicine was the wild west back then, I imagine. Everybody inventing their own snake oil. I felt like there was a bit of a cop-out with that: they wiped Dr. Salt’s brain so that when the staff was rescued, the conflict was over. If Dr. Salt had been healthy, he would’ve re-taken charge… and would that be good? Much more complex.

Solee: NO. That would NOT have been good. What was good was they put the former head nurse in charge. She seemed to represent the balance between humanity and science.

Mikey: I think so… but Dr. Salt represented the actual rules of modern medicine at the time. Possibly. It’s also possible he got away with horrible things by being out in a remote area alone.

Solee: I think it’s a little of both. I suspect those kinds of places were located out in remote areas partly because their methods were “shocking”. It was much easier for “polite society” to push their “disappointments” out to the edges of civilization and let folks like Dr. Salt to what they will.

Mikey: I think it was interesting that in our Disappointments Room review, you mentioned how asylums were the more modern version of disappointments rooms (was that also mentioned in the movie?). This movie even called them “disappointments to their families”. Kate Beckinsale seems to only do movies about this concept. Based on this sample of two.

Solee: Clearly a scientifically sound study. So there were two big twists in this movie. Did either of them catch you off-guard?

Mikey: Well, I made a note, the very first time Dr. Newgate met Dr. Lamb: “I already suspect the new guy”. I thought Dr. Lamb seemed like the real deal, but Dr. Newgate was fishy. So I was kind of jumping one twist ahead. But I was almost disappointments’d when they revealed the staff was being held captive. I mean, it’s such a huge cliche, the inmates are running the asylum… but I should note that this is based on an 1845 Poe story (“The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”), so it’s probably the original incarnation.

Solee: I was suspicious of Mickey Finn from the moment he appeared at the front gate. I had figured out that they were the inmates before it was revealed (although maybe not as much before as I should have). I was not expecting the second twist. I’m not sure why not, because it wasn’t really that shocking, but I didn’t get there on my own.

Mikey: I am glad of it, because his unhealthy obsession seemed like stupid Hollywood romance until they revealed he was actually obsessed. Mickey Finn certainly did have a hard time hiding his particular creepiness. But that’s pretty standard for orderlies at an asylum, so I didn’t mind.

On a different note, I want to point out a problem I had: I enjoyed the way Dr. Newgate escaped from Dr. Lamb - it’s fun when somebody is in an inescapable predicament and yet finds a legitimate way out rather than something arbitrary like being rescued. But the effect that the photo had on Dr. Lamb doesn’t make sense to me. He carried this photo with him all the time. Did he carry it without ever looking at it? If he constantly looked at it, as you might imagine, it shouldn’t have had a huge impact on him to see it. If he did in fact never look at it, and had it like some kind of talisman… well, I guess okay, but how likely is it that somebody would go completely catatonic from looking at an image of their trauma? I think I would’ve gone with him having some kind of horrible outburst or something that set up an escape.

Solee: I feel compelled to point out that it was wrapped up and stuffed in the wall. I don’t think it was something he pulled out to stare at. I think it was something he desperately wanted to forget but that he couldn’t actually allow himself to let go of.

Mikey: But it was hidden away for good reason - his chess game against Dr. Salt. There’s no proof he avoided looking at it. And he would’ve had to look at it at one point in his life to put it in there. So I have my doubts. Mostly because I think reactions that extreme are pretty far out of the norm. And certainly Dr. Newgate couldn’t have expected it. Though I guess he was just trying whatever he had.

Solee: I see what you’re saying. It didn’t bother me though. So how would you end up rating this movie?

Mikey: Weeeelll… I do not qualify this as a horror movie, so let’s just throw that right down the body tube. But I did enjoy it. It was very interesting, and twists are always helpful. I was displeased when the twist of the staff being held captive was revealed super early on, but it worked because they twisted more later. It seemed like that could’ve been something that unraveled with time. But anyway, it was fun in the end, and it did not disappointments with the psychological conflicts. I would give it a 4 out of 5. What would you do for this film?

Solee: I just want to say up front that I know how biased this rating is and I don’t care. I completely agree with you that this wasn’t really horror … and I’m still giving it a 5. I really enjoyed watching this movie. I liked the story, I liked the acting, I liked the visuals and soundtrack choices, and I actually feel like watching it was a valuable use of my time. So, it gets a 5.

Mikey: Wha-boooom! Well, I hope we can turn that smile upside-down with our next film, The Monster (2016).

Solee: Sounds … amazing!
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