A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Asylum" is well-titled, since everyone in it is more or less crazy, mostly more. It's an overwrought Gothic melodrama that has a nice first act before it descends into shameless absurdity. To care about the story you would have to believe it, which you cannot, so there you are. Yet the movie is well made, and the actors courageously try to bring life into the preposterous story. Perhaps the original novel by Patrick McGrath held up better, or perhaps imagined images have a plausibility that gets lost when a movie makes them literal.
The story is set circa 1960 in a vast old asylum built in the Victorian era -- one of those buildings looking like an architectural shriek. Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) has arrived to become the new superintendent; he brings his wife Stella (Natasha Richardson) and their son Charlie (Gus Lewis). All is not well in this family, but then nothing is right in the asylum, where the long-serving Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen) resents being passed over for Max's job. He's expected to serve as Max's second-in-command, leading to acid one-liners that McKellan delivers like dagger thrusts:
Max: "May I remind you that I am your superior?"
Peter: "In what sense?"