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|aka: Eliza Graves|
dir Brad Anderson
scr Joe Gangemi
prd Mel Gibson, Mark Amin, Bruce Davey
with Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Jason Flemyng, Brendan Gleeson, Sinead Cusack, Christopher Fulford, Edmund Kingsley, Guillaume Delaunay
release US 24.Oct.14, UK 24.Apr.15
14/UK Icon 1h52
Who's the doctor? Sturgess and Beckinsale
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, this Victorian thriller is entertainingly bonkers. Set in a mental institution, the film is a riot of hysterically foreboding production design and crazy eye-rolling performances. So even if the plot feels ludicrous, it's also a lot of fun.
In December 1899, young doctor Edward (Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Lunatic Asylum, a vast manor house in the English wilderness. His new boss is Silas (Kingsley), whose method of treatment is to indulge patients in their delusions, which has created a kind of benevolently nutty community in the hospital. Immediately drawn to gorgeous patient Eliza (Beckinsale), Edward also makes a chilling discovery in the basement, where the imprisoned Benjamin (Caine) claims to be the true head doctor, locked up with his staff by criminally insane inmates who have, yes, taken over the asylum.
Director Anderson gleefully stirs up a madly gothic tone that's arch and enjoyably crazed, packing each frame with things like freaky animal experiments, lurking skeletons and insane hairstyles, plus a carefully timed cuckoo clock. Not to mention, of course, constant warnings that you should trust no one and get out of here while you can! So even if there isn't much subtext to hold it together, the story relentlessly escalates toward fiery mayhem.
It helps that the cast is riotously hammy. None of the characters looks sane, and anyone who tries to is clearly hiding something. As our surrogate in this nuthouse, Sturgess has to be the dullest person on-screen, although the way he's so suddenly smitten with Eliza hints at some instability. Around him, Kingsley and Caine camp it up merrily, Thewlis adds menace as the brooding groundsman, and Clark is hilarious as a sex-obsessed virginal nurse. By comparison, Beckinsale almost fades into the scenery.
The obvious question here is about who the real monsters are, doctors who use brutal methods on their patients or the mentally unstable people who live according to their madness? Thankfully for genre fans, this means lots of horrific flashbacks to doctors torturing patients with cold water, drugs, electric shock and caged restraints, contrasted by aristocratic patients who are hilariously eccentric outcasts banished by their families. Yes, there's a hint of a theme buried under the murky grubbiness and Victorian splendour, but clearly no one's interested in that.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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