Thursday, March 26, 2015

In short: Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

aka Eliza Graves

Following the incredible Session 9, Brad Anderson’s directing career has a series of ups and downs in film as well as on TV, with nothing I’ve seen quite up to the level of a film that might feel like a bit of a millstone around the neck of anyone who made it. It has always been obvious, though, that Anderson is a director very much in control of his material, with a sense of style and mood, just not always provided with the right scripts - and one can’t help but speculate the right circumstances – to make the most of his talents.

Stonehearst Asylum again isn’t quite up to the level of Session 9 but is still quite a delightful experience. Now, it might be possible my huge enjoyment of the film is based on it hitting so many of my pleasure buttons, what with it being freely “based on” (which means, taking a basic idea and doing something completely different with it) a Poe story, exploring the realm between “madness” and “mental health” in a way that is at once conscious of the constructedness of these descriptors as of the actual pains of suffering from a mental illness. I’m also quite fond of the way it uses sensationalized ideas of mental illness and psychiatry in a playful manner that always makes clear scriptwriter Joe Gangemi and Anderson do know they are using the popular ideas of psychiatry and mental illness rather than the things themselves, sometimes letting very different interpretations of what they mean collide, which probably will offend someone somewhere, but so will everything.

And because that’s clearly not enough for one film, it also makes merry use of all kinds of gothic romance elements – often twisted in fun and clever ways and always used with just the right tone and in just the right mood - and (slightly ironic) Romantic nonsense about the curative powers of love, thinks about the troubles of building a utopia when you’re surrounded by fallible human beings who need to eat and be warm and when you yourself are a rather hurt human being too, even carries some mildly feminist elements (if you want to read them that way, that is), and, finally, reaches an improbable but perfectly likeable and deserved kind of happy end. And, thanks to the film’s Gothic structure and Anderson’s general brilliance, Stonehearst Asylum does makes this overload of ideas and concepts work, more often than not dance, with one another, as if it were the easiest thing in the world.

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