The Limehouse Golem, 2016.
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina.
Starring Douglas Booth, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Sam Reid, Bill Nighy, Daniel Mays, María Valverde, and Sam Reid.
A killer stalks pre-Jack the Ripper Victorian London and a police inspector must solve the case in order to prevent a perceived injustice.
The gloomy moonlit streets of Victorian London has always provided an atmospheric setting for many a cinematic Gothic murder mystery, and, for once, the subject of this particular crime thriller is not the real-life enigma of Jack the Ripper but a series of murders where there was no apparent pattern or connection to any of the victims. Set in 1880, The Limehouse Golem is based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and stars Bill Nighy (Underworld/Shaun of the Dead) as Inspector John Kildare, a police officer transferred to the case of the Golem killings in order to act as a fall guy for Scotland Yard’s top detective in case he cannot get a conviction, a fact that Kildare is very much aware of. As Kildare begins his investigation of the latest killings he becomes aware of the case of Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke – Ouija), a young music hall entertainer who married playwright John Cree (Sam Reid – The Railway Man) and is now on trial for his murder by poisoning. John Cree is Kildare’s chief suspect for the Golem killings and the dogged detective now faces a race against time to prove it so before Lizzie is hanged for murdering her seemingly innocent husband and he looks unable to solve the Golem case.
Of course, things aren’t as straightforward as they first seem – or are they? Not to give anything away, The Limehouse Golem is a serviceable whodunnit that mostly entertains during its 109-minute running time but it only really works as a face-value crime thriller with some delicious gore and brief nudity thrown in to brighten up the brilliantly realised fog-bound sets. However – and this is a major problem with any mystery story – it doesn’t really take 109 minutes to figure out who the Golem actually is. Sure, the filmmakers try and bluff you by throwing in more red herrings than a Norwegian fishing trawler could carry but there is such a focus on one character in particular and so much is asked of you as a viewer to invest in this character that there can only ever be one outcome. And the way that flashbacks to possible outcomes using various characters – including an ambitious but ostentatious thread involving Karl Mark (Henry Goodman – Avengers: Age of Ultron) – are used to try and throw you off the scent are clumsy and feel like an afterthought, as if somebody had read through the script and decided the straightforward approach told well wouldn’t be enough for a modern audience expecting twists and turns every few minutes.
In focusing so much on one character the filmmakers also reduce Inspector Kildare, the best character with the most interesting arc, to nothing more than an observer as he is told details about other character’s lives. We are given hints about Kildare’s life, and his relationship with his constable George Flood (Daniel Mays – Rogue One) is approached and circled around enough to tell you what you need to know, but never explored in any great detail; as well as his personal life he obviously has a professional background that could have been brought into play but we only get one or two lines alluding to why he is in the position he finds himself and for the remainder of the film he may as well not speak and let everyone around him eventually reveal themselves for who they are just by pointing at them.
But that isn’t to say that The Limehouse Golem isn’t enjoyable to watch. You can’t really go wrong with a cast of this calibre, with Bill Nighy, Daniel Mays and María Valverde (Exodus: Gods and Kings), who plays Lizzie Cree’s music hall rival and eventual love rival in an odd plot detail that doesn’t just suggest the female empowerment angle that screenwriter Jane Goldman is trying to convey but rams it down your throat, all shining despite the lack of depth to the material, and the kill scenes are all superbly shot with the appropriate amount of blood spraying this way and that where a lot of period pieces would have shied away from the gore. Overall, The Limehouse Golem works as a watchable Gothic chiller on the strength of the cast and its visuals but thanks to the shallow, first draft styling of the script it doesn’t have the sense of danger or drama that such a story really needs to stand up against the likes of From Hell or Edge of Sanity as a Victorian era horror story that you’d be likely to return to very often.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★