A review of “Asylum” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for nudity, sexuality, language and violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

 

 

Psychologically flawless and thoroughly uncompromising, “Asylum” speaks volumes about the dark side of obsession.

The Yorkshire Dales circa 1959. Restless doctor’s wife Stella Raphael (Natasha Richardson) is living near a high-security psychiatric hospital where her husband (Hugh Bonneville) has been assigned the lofty position of deputy director. 

Too quickly Stella tires of a country confinement chock full of ladies auxiliary parties and countryside rides with her 9-year old son (Gus Lewis), instead finding herself inexorably drawn to a charismatic inmate (hubba hubba Marton Csokas) who works as a groundskeeper on her stately English gardens.

On impulse Stella embarks on a torrid love affair with this man who allegedly murdered his wife by hammering her to death in a fit of rage. Theirs is a fierce and treacherous passion built on mutual discontent and deep-seated insecurity.

Unmoved by the repeated warnings of her jilted husband and the hospital’s head psychotherapist (Ian McKellen), Stella risks all in the name of wanton passion, digging into the darkest reaches of her soul for consequences-be-damned salvation. Hers is the axis on which the rest of the characters spin their lonely charades, inexorably drawn to Stella’s quixotic madness.

Writer and director Patrick Marber (“Closer”) and David Mackenzie have created a visually expressive and scrupulously crafted work of subtle virtue and turbulent emotion. Unexpected twists, spare narrative, erotic obsession -- check, check, and check.  Dialogue is borne of a skilled wit that affords each player the opportunity to hit his or her notes spot on.

“Asylum” ventures to the bleak side relentlessly and without apology, never missing a beat in its desire to shock, thrill and unsettle.