It’s been a great year for the horror and thriller genres – while the blockbusters and summer spectaculars grab the majority of the headlines (and indeed the money, for the most part) it’s perhaps these two strands of our cinema experience that have had the greatest success through the opening eight months of the year, including the tail end of 2016. M. Night Shyamalan’s Split proved that the director hadn’t completely lost his touch; Jordan Peele took us on a tense trip through the heart of America with Get Out; and Julia Ducournau’s Raw shook many to its core, literally.
So it’s about time we had a British film join the impressive roster of 2017 and as we creep towards the time of year where such films are in high supply and the nights get shorter, it’s The Limehouse Golem who flies the flag. A murky, atmospheric chiller from director Juan Carlos Medina that mixes Sherlock Holmes with Jack the Ripper, the film is a classic whodunnit with plenty of lashes of the “red stuff” to keep many a gore-monger happy but does it reach the heights of those aforementioned horrors?
Bill Nighy leads the cast as Inspector Kildare, a seasoned Scotland Yard detective who is thrust into the case of the mysterious Limehouse Golem, a serial killer with a taste for the macabre and the vicious. Believing he has been assigned the case due to it’s very cryptic and highly unlikely solvability, Kildare nevertheless begins his search and is soon drawn down a dark path that only gets worse as the number of victims rises. However, he is soon drawn to Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), a young woman on trial for supposedly poisoning her husband Jon (Sam Reid) but who may hold more answers to the Golem case than she realises as could her work associate Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), a famous music hall entertainer with links to both.
When all said and done, Medina’s film is one that falls on the side of disappointment rather than side of pleasure despite it having components that should have added up to success: the look and feel of Victorian London is beautifully realised by the filmmaker and his team with the production design, art direction and Simon Dennis’ lush cinematography transporting us to the time and place with real quality; and the film’s two leads are superb: Nighy who gives one of his finest performances here that’s forceful and potent while retaining his usual charismatic humour, while Cooke, too, is excellent and follows her fine turn in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl with a strong, measured performance as Cree.
But it’s in the mechanics of the story that ultimately prove the downfall of proceedings, never really bringing the sense of dread that you would hope. Scripted by Jane Goldman, who is a fine writer, does her best to inject her own voice to it but such is the lacklustre nature of the killer aspects that the whodunnit aspect of it is cracked much sooner than it should be. Indeed if this had been made for television, this level of tension may have worked but as a feature, it begins to wain very quickly.
While it’s worth seeing for the murky atmospherics and the two lead performances, The Limehouse Golem proves to be a lacklustre showcase that soon loses its rhythm and feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.