Atmospheric but depressingly downbeat film, with strong performances from its cast.
On paper, the combination of Young Adam director, David Mackenzie and Spider author, Patrick McGrath looks ideal, since neither of them seem likely to win any Cheery Disposition contests in the near future.
Throw in screenwriter, Patrick Marber (Closer) and it’s pretty clear that Asylum isn’t about to have feelgood movie of the year plastered all over its posters. With that in mind, it’s an impressively atmospheric film with performances which keep you hooked, despite the gnawing feeling that it’ll all end in tears.
Set in the 1950s, the film stars Natasha Richardson as Stella, a bored housewife whose husband Max (Hugh Bonneville) has just been made assistant administrator at an isolated asylum for the criminally insane.
Stella and her son, Charlie (Gus Lewis) don’t take too kindly to their new surroundings, until they both strike up a bond with Edgar (Marton Csokas), a patient who is permitted to work on the restoration of a glass house on the grounds.
Stella soon begins a smouldering affair with Edgar, a fact that doesn’t go unnoticed by the jealous Dr Cleave (Ian McKellen), who feels that Max was handed the job that was rightfully his.
The film is beautifully shot, by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens and the film evokes a strong sense of the period, thanks to impressive costume work and set design. The performances are also extremely good. Bonneville is cast effectively against type, proving he can do more than just young Jim Broadbent and bumbling Englishman.
Marton Csokas (Celeborn in Lord of the Rings) comes across as a hybrid of Russell Crowe and Clive Owen in full-on brooding mode and has a genuine chemistry with Richardson that goes some way to explaining why she stays with him as a long as she does.
Richardson gives one of her best screen performances as Stella – the scene set on the school trip is utterly devastating. It’s a difficult performance, because her character is far from sympathetic, but somehow she pulls it off. McKellen’s role is equally complex as Cleave is the narrator of the novel.
In short, Asylum would fit happily on a doom and gloom double bill with Young Adam. It’s a hard watch in places, but Mackenzie’s atmospheric direction and the strong performances ensure that it remains engaging right up until its cheekily Hitchcockian final scene. Worth seeing.