A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stonehearst Asylum is a thriller based on the Edgar Allan Poe story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." Violence isn't particularly gory or extreme, but the movie does have some disturbing images of the inside of an asylum, as well as some fighting, death, weapons, and extreme "cures" (including water torture and a "nausea machine"). A female patient seduces a guard with kisses, and the moment leads to violence. There's some general flirting and affection between the male and female leads. Set in 1899, the language is archaic and includes the English affectations of "shite" and "fecking." Characters drink and smoke cigars in a background way, and knockout drugs ("Mickey Finns") are used in alcoholic beverages. Heroin is mentioned as medicine for hysteria. The movie is OK for stalwart teens, though horror hounds will be disappointed by the lack of gore; this movie is more about atmosphere and ideas than screams.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In the year 1899, Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at the remote STONEHEARST ASYLUM, hoping to become a resident doctor. He meets superintendent Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) and his thuggish right-hand man (David Thewlis), as well as beautiful inmate Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), who has "hysteria." Newgate has a gentle way with the patients and gets on well, but he begins to discover that something strange is afoot. He finds a dungeon full of people, one of whom claims to be Dr. Salt (Michael Caine), the true superintendent of the facility. Newgate begins to concoct an elaborate escape plan, but who in this place can be trusted?
Is it any good?
Brad Anderson (Happy Accidents, The Call) is one of our most reliable genre filmmakers; he rarely makes anything great, but, likewise, he rarely makes anything truly bad. Adapting the Edgar Allan Poe story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" with screenwriter Joe Gangemi, Anderson creates an immersive universe in the beautifully designed asylum. It's much like the modern-day asylum in his terrific Session 9 (2001), a three-dimensional space with a grim, sinister personality of its own.
All of the performers, including Brendan Gleeson in an small but crucial role, seem to be having a great time savoring the tricks and treats hidden within their characters. Anderson clearly takes delight in all the proceedings, which is one of the reasons his films feel fresh instead of lazy. The story's twists may not be all that opaque, and many genre fans could feel disappointed at being able to figure out what's going to happen, but that discredits the overall fun that can be had at Stonehearst Asylum.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Stonehearst Asylum's violence. How gory is it? How disturbing is it? Can a movie be disturbing without being gory? What's the difference?
How does the movie differ from Poe's story? Did the changes make for a more interesting movie? How would you have told the story?
What does it mean that the asylum itself is a character in the story? How can a place be a character?
- In theaters: October 24, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: December 16, 2014
- Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley
- Director: Brad Anderson
- Studio: Millennium Entertainment
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: disturbing and violent images, sexual content and language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.