New Horror Releases: The Limehouse Golem (2017) Reviewed

An intriguing, but disjointed entry into the gaslight London serial killer mythology, Juan Carlos Medina's The Limehouse Golem attempts to explore a plethora of themes underneath the guise of an unusually graphic crime thriller. Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke give a thrilling pair of performances, catapulting what could have been a forgettable throwaway into a niche period piece.

Inspector Kildare is assigned to catch the Limehouse Golem, a serial killer terrorizing the streets of London.  His investigation brings him into contact with Elizabeth Cree, a stage actress who is accused of murdering her husband, a man who may be the killer that Kildare seeks.  Based on Peter Ackroyd's 1994 historical mystery, Jane Goldman's script boasts some unexpected surprises within the interplay of its large ensemble, particularly with respect to the performers at the center.  There are themes of feminism, sexual politics, and the pursuit of stardom that Goldman's accomplished style gives credence, an unexpected surprise when contrasted with the over the top violence.  

Despite these complexities, it becomes apparent, particularly during the telegraphed conclusion that Golem is missing something.  The investigation is given the backseat to the melodrama of Elizabeth's doomed marriage, with the summation feeling Pyrrhic in nature.  This may be a turn off for viewers, however, upon reflection, taking Golem as a cautionary tale on the pursuit of stardom, rather than a by the book procedural, the sly intentions of Goldman's dialogue and Medina's structured direction gives the final act more impact. However, even with this knowledge, there are rough patches, particularly with respect to the chemistry of the cast (outside of its leads) and the film's attempt to explore a myriad of concepts.  It's simply too much to sustain. 

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Douglas Booth gives the strongest performance as Dan Leno, a cross dressing superstar that mentors Elizabeth when she begins in show business.  Booth becomes a living muse, a physical representation of the live free or die mantra embraced by performers of the era, using their art as a means to escape the confines, and frequently terrifying realities of poverty and subjugation at the hands of the wealthy.  Olivia Cooke is outstanding as Elizabeth.  There's a certain recklessness to her demeanor that works perfectly within Medina's well composed nocturnal kingdom.  While Nighy received top billing, this is Cooke's show and she handles the task with kaleidoscopic talent, shotgunning from one emotional extreme to another, all the while chronicling Elizabeth's rise to fame. Bill Nighy rounds out the trio with one of the most understated performances of his eclectic career.  Kildare is a scapegoat, given an impossible task due to his sexuality and Nighy's careful and respectful approach to the material is refreshing.  Usually, the detective is a flawed, obsessed outsider whose personal salvation is tied to the outcome of the case.  Nighy's Kildare is world weary, and yet noble, always trying to do the right thing, despite external pressure.  These three performances align to create a powerful foundation, on top of which rests a flawed, but interesting experience. 

As to be expected in a picture such as this, the world of Golem is dark, fog choked, and soiled, adroitly captured by Simon Dennis' attentive cinematography.  Details are essential; however it is perspective and memory that form Golem's heart of darkness.  Kirstin Chalmers hair and makeup designs are the essential ingredient merging with Claire Anderson's costume design to present vintage chic ensembles and essential clues that are sprinkled throughout the narrative. Johan Soderqvist's score tonally flourishes when required before slipping back into the shadows, mimicking the Golem's movements through the shrouded streets of a forgotten London.  Ian Rowley's special effects are the technical highlight, presenting gruesome kill sequences in an ocean of blood and mangled prosthetics.  

Coming soon to video on demand, The Limehouse Golem is a fun departure from stereotypical neo-Victorian storytelling.  The serial killer genre is overstuffed with stories about male detectives and bizarre murderers.  Golem sidesteps these conventions by putting the trials and tribulations of a woman at the center and surrounding her ordeals with viciously graphic kills and unexpectedly solid performances from its lead talents.     

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-Kyle Jonathan