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The Limehouse Golem (2016)
Directed by: Juan Carlos Medina
Starring: Olivia Cooke, Bill Nighy, Douglas Booth
Rated: NR (Suggested R for Grisly Violence and Some Sexual Material)
Running Time: 1 h 49 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Mise-en-scene, Acting, Writing
As famed musician Elizabeth Cree awaits her death sentence for the apparent murder of her husband, Inspector Kildare investigates a series of murders that might coincide with Cree’s husband.
Okay, look… I really loved the first half of this movie, but around the halfway mark, things began to take a loll, and I felt as if I had already figured out the twist at the end. But when I got to the ending, I found it to be unsatisfactorily satisfying, if that makes any sense. I felt like I knew where this story was headed by about the halfway mark, but the way things wrapped up was not exactly like I imagined. Though I could predict the overall ending- the who in whodunit, if you will- I found that the overall ride I was taken on throughout the film was worth experiencing. I really enjoyed the acting, for the most part, I found that the characters all had real depth and backstories, the settings (for the most part) looked real and atmospheric, and the thriller/horror elements were at some times very grotesque and creepy. I struggled with whether or not to give this movie a “3 star” rating or a “3.5 star,” and I settled on 3.5. It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a valiant effort, and it’s miles ahead of most of the other slasher films that come out today. Where this film fails is taking too much time to tell us stories about people who have little impact on the premise. This movie was based on a novel, and with adaptions, many times the film can feel too dense, as the screenwriters feel they need to include as many details from the book as possible to assuage the fans. This movie was one of those films. It falls in a sour spot where the little details feel too dense when they’re all stuffed into a short runtime. Had they cut out some of the side plots, the movie might’ve been better. Or, had they gone the opposite direction, and spent more time with each of the characters and subplots and flushed them out, they could’ve turned this into an epic (though I doubt the budget on this film would’ve allowed for that). As it was, I was wrapped up in this world for an hour and forty-five minutes, and it kept me satisfactorily entertained.
"Here we are again!"
I think my favorite part of The Limehouse Golem is the way the story is told through a series of overlapping flashbacks, stories told in plays, reimagined crimes, and entangled stories. It’s a complex web of characters that, when looked at from a distance, paints a portrait of the seedy underbelly of London before the Whitechapel murders (the murders of Jack the Ripper). Perhaps the most interesting character is the one that we get to know the most, that being Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke, Thoroughbreds). We get to know her character’s backstory from the time she was a girl, stitching sails on the gruff London docks. We watch her grow into a woman, join a theater troupe and explores her passions; she’s a very likeable character, made even more likeable by Olivia Cooke’s unadulterated shining charisma. Cooke is a young actress who is certainly one to watch; she holds her own against veteran Bill Nighy (Underworld) and she’s been great (if not the best part) of most of the movies I’ve seen her in (the mediocre, but not bad sci-fi thriller: The Signal; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl; Thoroughbreds; even Ready Player One). There were a few instances, particularly near the end/climax of the film, when I thought the delivery of some of her lines was a bit stilted, but other than that she was fantastic. But the other characters in this film are just as diverse and interesting. Bill Nighy’s character is an inspector and a closeted homosexual, though a few people inexplicably know of his secret. The secret he harbors keeps him at bay from some of the other inspectors in Scotland Yard, and he plays the character with a sort of icy persona that works, but also leaves him feeling a little one note at times. It’s weird to say it, but the veteran Nighy was upstaged by newcomer Cooke in a few of their scenes together. But though his acting was not the best I’ve ever seen him do (not bad by any means, just not up to par with some of his other work), the character he played was incredibly intelligent and interesting. His character knows, for instance, that the reason he was assigned to the Limehouse Golem murders case is because the case is supposedly unsolvable; he’s a scapegoat for the Yard in a case that has no hope. Other interesting characters in this story include John Cree (Sam Reid, ’71), George Flood (Daniel Mays, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), and Aveline Ortega (Maria Valverde, Exodus: Gods and Kings). I wont go into their backstories, as I’m already nearing 900 words in this review, and I haven’t even gotten to talk about the production design yet, but their characters are all flushed out as well- though sometimes, as I mentioned in the above paragraph, that flushing out of characters seems to drag the movie down a bit. There’s also a strange and unnecessary ‘cameo’ by Karl Marx- I get it if the author was obsessed with Marx’s teachings and felt a need to include bits of in the book (though I don’t know why- the Communist Manifesto has some interesting bits, but it also has a lot of cold and dangerous teachings- like Marx’s idea that nuclear family is the reason for class inequality, and thus family ties should be fought against)- in the movie however, the nod to Marx felt shoehorned.
As far as production design goes this film looked great for the budget it had. I couldn’t find an exact dollar amount on the budget of this film, but I can guarantee it did not have a hundred million dollars to throw at the production design. There are certainly sets that are clearly sets, just like some of the costumes look to fresh, too polished to have been worn by a lowlife in the streets of London. I, personally, am willing to forgive some small details on smaller budget films, particularly if the script and storytelling methods are interesting. The theatre where Lizzie works is perhaps the best, most elaborate set, and that makes sense considering they spend a decent amount of time there. Other places, such as the library and some of the houses, looked to be shot on locations. Where the production design faltered the most was in the back alleys and dark docks of London. Many times, they film had added layers of CGI to enhance the backgrounds- adding ship masts near the docks, the tower of London in the background of some street shots, and other various Victorian age buildings towered above the sets, and many of them looked slightly off and gave the frame a tawdry feeling. I can’t say it was ever enough to take me completely out of the film, but my subconscious picked up on it enough times that my conscious mind made a note of it. The murders, which are depicted several times throughout the film, are all incredibly gory and gruesome in the best way possible. Plenty of blood, gore, and grisly sound effects to keep horror fans enthralled, though at times the pacing between the killings might bore horror fanatics who just come for the body count. This movie is smarter than most slasher films in that it takes time to develop characters and build the world. While moments of this film are horror/thriller, primarily this film is a drama; a very, very, very dark drama.
As I said above, I really struggled with whether or not to give this movie a 3 or a 3.5 star, and I settled with 3.5. This movie appeals to me in ways that I’m sure it wont appeal to others, so for me personally, that was enough to add another ½ star. I generally like grimmer stories set in Victorian times- and I have a particularly morbid fascination with serial killers like Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes (I’m not psycho- I swear… but isn’t that just what a psycho would say? *laughs maliciously*), I like costume dramas and murder mysteries, I like Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke, and I liked the unconventional way this film told its story, even if I could predict the ending… Perfect, this movie is not; entertaining, it certainly is.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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