Leon van Nierop
2 minute read
28 Oct 2014
10:00 am

Movie review: Eliza Graves

Leon van Nierop

Would you pay to see a film called Stonehearst Asylum?

DARK. Ben Kingsley and Kate Beckinsale star in Eliza Graves. Picture: Supplied

Thought not. What about The System of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether? Not likely. The latter, incidentally, is the title of the original short story on which this film is based – the other the first American movie title, which is why the distributors wisely changed it to the more accessible Eliza Graves.

The master of horror Edgar Allan Poe came up with this macabre story. If you don’t recognise the title, it is one of his more obscure works. A beautiful woman, Eliza Graves, has been innocently imprisoned in a mental asylum, which is one of Poe’s favourite themes: those dark, hidden corners of the mind where the monsters lurk.

In comes a handsome, soft-spoken doctor, played by the underrated Jim Sturgess. He apparently wants to change the barbaric methods used by the brutal manager of the asylum, portrayed with steely reserve by Ben Kingsley.

Keeping in line with other film versions of Poe’s horrific tales, this one is sinister, dramatic and gloomy. The art direction should get a special mention as a nightmarish asylum has seldom been recreated with such realism and attention to dark detail. The interior of the building could just as well reflect the inner world of the main characters, so this is the perfect breeding ground for dark matters of the mind and madness manifesting in sinister objects, shadows and dirty cages.

Sturgess offers a welcome contrast to the mayhem around him and viewers who are easily disturbed by horror stories should take note. Like The Nun’s Story in 1959, this film takes you into the heart of an asylum and never sets you free. Also consider Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island and you might know what to expect.

Not that Eliza Graves is in the same league. It’s as if the director took some shortcuts and didn’t explore the themes of madness and obsession properly.

But this is not a waste of time or money. Beckinsale doesn’t quite convince, but Sturgess really gives a stimulating performance.