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Studio:Paramount Classics
Director:David MacKenzie
Cast:Natasha Richardson, Marton Csokas, Ian McKellen, Hugh Bonneville, Joss Ackland
Screen Writer:Patrick Marber
Music Score:Mark Mancina
Release Date:2005
Our Rating:

Despite its febrile themes of murder, suicide and violent psychosis – and the presence of an oft-nude Natasha Richardson – director David Mackenzie's Asylum is so obsessed with rendering Patrick McGrath's exquisitely twisted Gothic novel as a refined affair that it forgets less ambitious pursuits, like sussing out a way to keep us awake.

Basically, the movie is about how the privileged suffer (much more poetically than you or I) and how the poor, though they might be worth a passing fuck, are pretty much disposable nuisances. That probably isn't the best theme to present right now, though context isn't the film's fault. Nevertheless it's got faults aplenty.

Richardson zombie-otically underplays Stella, a sexually repressed wife in a barren marriage to a psychiatrist, Max (Hugh Bonneville). Max has taken a position at a psychiatric facility run by the highly mysterious Dr. Cleave (Ian McKellen, in rare phoned-in performance). Stella has an affair with a rakish inmate/starving artist/ex-wife killer named Edgar (Marton Csokas). The idea that pursuing such a strapping nutjob will lead Stella to living like a filthy commoner is high among the film's list of horrific possibilities.

Anyway, all hell breaks loose (politely, please – we're British). At one juncture of apparently unspeakable tragedy, Max loses his job and is forced to take a position at a facility in Wales, which also necessitates his making do with a country home. The poor bastard.

Considering the film's title and settings, it's almost self-referentially perverse in its nitwitted portrayal of mental aberration, a depiction that ranges from the clueless to the downright nonsensical. As Mackenzie never bothers to come up with a cinematic substitute for McGrath's intimate, third-person voice, we're left adrift regarding Edgar's violent mood swings, encouraged to tut-tut the bizarre behavior of his destitute flatmate while Dr. Cleave – whose lust for Stella is an essential plot point – endures an inexplicable, final-reel implication that it's Edgar he really fancies.

Asylum does move at a brisk clip, but the tactful pacing itself becomes a source of monotony. Ironically for a filmmaker whose movie is centered on morbidity, Mackenzie shows a sure way with the tossed-off bon mot. But in a project dealing with festering psychological disintegration, he would have been smart to slow down and smell the decay.

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