Film Review: The Limehouse Golem
Horror movie season is upon us, and with it has come some big titles. The return of Saw with the long anticipated Jigsaw has been just one of the headliners, with other films such as Mother!, The Ritual, Happy Death Day, and American Satan filling all the other horror movie needs anyone could ask for. And of course IT has easily become the horror movie of the year, if not one of the films of the year. Perhaps it is with such diversity of horror in the cinema and big titles being released that The Limehouse Golem has been so easy to overlook (an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's 1994 murder mystery novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem).
Set in Victorian London, The Limehouse Golem follows a very basic premise that many have seen before: “Victorian London is gripped with fear as a serial killer is on the loose and leaving cryptic messages written in the blood of his victims. With few leads and increasing public pressure, Scotland Yard assigns the case to Inspector Kildare, a seasoned detective who has a sneaking suspicion that he's being set up to fail. Faced with a long list of suspects, Kildare must rely on help from a witness to stop the murders and bring the maniac to justice.” What the premise doesn’t tell you is that it is beyond any murder mystery you have seen before, because half the film might be focused on the Golem but the other half follows a mixed cast of actors and comedians, focusing on not ‘a theatre’ but ‘The Theatre’.
I thought I knew what to expect when I went to the film, but out of all that I have seen this year this film has surprised me the most. Not because it is exceptional or redefines a genre, but because it harked back to the likes of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe, with the flare for the dramatic of Shakespeare. Being focused around the theatre instantly invokes thoughts of Hamlet and Macbeth, and for anyone who enjoys Shakespeare’s plays you’ll be delighted (as I was) by how many of his plays are quoted within the film. It is subtle, a play on what we know, but the lines that are uttered add to the macabre and gothic feel of the movie.
The director Juan Carlos Medina is known for making the audience uncomfortable by forcing his point of view on you even if you don’t want it, as can be seen in Painless, and The Limehouse Golem is no exception. Uncomfortable, intriguing and fascinating you find yourself unable to look away. Part way through the film realised that I was holding my breath, waiting for the next scene. It wasn’t because the one on the screen was poor, but instead because I needed to know what happened next. Like many murder mystery thrillers it follows the known pattern of events, opening up on a murder, with complications and confusions array. It has an Agatha Christie “who’s done it” feel, with a grotesque theme throughout. It feels as if the characters you’re watching should be a part of a freak show, something to watch but also something to look away from.
Some parts are disappointing, with myself and my partner having been divided in our opinions. I enjoyed it, and being a child raised on the theatre definitely helped with the language and circular feel. He struggled more, stating how he expected there to be “more blood and less monologues”. At times the language used seems self indulgent on the writers part, with words and patterns being used to show off rather than truly capture the time and place. The casting is one thing we did agree on. The acting was exceptional, the viewer being drawn in not just to the drama of the murders but also the drama on stage which literally plays out during the film. Douglas Booth was the stand out, as when you’re watching it you find yourself waiting for his time on the screen. A beautifully portrayed character who you find yourself both liking and disliking at once (a theme all the characters seem to share, though some lean a lot more towards the dislike over like).
However the reason I would suggest for anyone who loves horror, thrillers or crime films to watch it is for the last five minutes. The end scene, in my eyes at least, was an ending the likes of which few films successfully manage to create. Perhaps it shouldn’t even be counted as a true horror, and a lack of a specific genre has been what has failed the film, yet also why I would suggest going to see it. The Limehouse Golem is by no means the horror movie of the year, or even the crime thriller of the year. It won’t win awards, and it certainly won’t be mentioned on the front pages of magazines, but it will be one that you will talk about and think on long after watching.
Three Out of Five Skulls
Tune in next week for Happy Death Day!