David Mackenzie's Asylum is a miserable little movie that sputters along in fits and wrong-headed starts before eventually expiring. To say it casts a suspicious eye on psychiatry and its practitioners would be underselling the extent of its pessimism. Asylum basically thinks human beings in general are complete and utter crap. For starters, it's extremely difficult to feel any sympathy for the protagonist, Stella Raphael (Natasha Richardson). Sure, her psychiatrist husband (Hugh Bonneville) is a controlling jerk, but the movie doesn't allow us to get swept away by the potential romantic sanctuary she finds in the arms of another man (Martin Csokas). See, this man is in the insane asylum for having killed and beheaded his wife -- a fact she knows going in -- and true enough, he becomes angry and unstable in no time. At which point she proceeds to throw her life away, most unconscionably with respect to her innocent son. To give some indication of the clumsiness of Chrys Balis' script, a trigger is needed to showcase the jealousy that caused Edgar Stark to murder his wife, so Stark's assistant abruptly professes his love for Stella in Stark's presence -- only so that Stark can whale on him as retribution. This clunky scene has no logical precursor in the story. Despite Stella's numerous character flaws, no man can resist her -- her cuckolded husband actually seems to want her back, and even a fellow psychiatrist played by the great Ian McKellen ends up having designs on her. This despite the fact that Stark asks him what she'd want to do with "an old queen like you." McKellen must really shake his head over his involvement with this one. Not only is Asylum beneath his considerable talents, it also makes reference to his real sexual orientation for no demonstrable narrative reason.
by Derek Armstrong review