The Limehouse Golem (2017)
This film, based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, starts with Victorian London being shaken by a series of gruesome murders deemed to be perpetuated by an individual so mythical he is called Golem. Eccentric Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned to the case, and begins to delve into the mind of a deranged individual, while, at the same time, a woman, one Elisabeth Cree (Olivia Cooke) is about to stand trial for the murder of her husband John Cree (Sam Reid). As Inspector discovers more information, he realises that the late John Cree may have been the London serial killer Golem, while other three men also equally come under suspicion, namely Karl Marx, Dan Leno and George Gissing. In content, this film is not just the recycling of the Jack the Ripper ideas. As “From Hell” (2001), “The Limehouse Golem” engulfs the viewer into the same gory atmosphere of Victorian England where cruelty and debauchery reign supreme, but it is probably the film’s unexpected twist at the end, as well as the superb acting of its cast, which make it distinguishable and memorable.
The film is torn between the story of Lizzie Cree, for example, showing her aspirations to become a musical hall star, and the tale of the murders than ravish the Limehouse community of London. At first, it is all confusing, but soon the plot clears. Inspector Kildare finds a diary of the serial killer Golem at a library, and immediately starts to look for a similar handwriting. Kildare assumes that the last entry of the diary must be the date of the last visit of the murderer to the library and is confronted by the realisation that, at that particular date, four men were at the library: Dan Leno, Karl Marx, George Gissing and John Cree. One of them, then, must be the murderer. The thrill of the mystery here is that the film leaves certain innuendos or clues abound for the viewer to try to guess him(her)self who can be the murderer and the suspense is maintained right to the very end of the film. In a fantastical recreation, all four men (Dan Leno, Karl Marx, George Gissing and John Cree) take turns reading the lines of the diary in the movie, as Kildare, in his mind, tries to picture each of them being the murderer. The twist ending is unforeseeable, and because the build-up was so suspenseful, it is even more powerful.
Most will compare “The Limehouse Golem” to the film of 2001 “From Hell”, starring Johnny Depp and telling of the Jack the Ripper murders, but the comparison does not give due justice to “The Limehouse Golem”. Unlike “From Hell”, the plot of “The Limehouse Golem” is much more elaborate and twisted with weird characters suddenly springing forth to capture the audience’s attention and divert it from the murders of Golem. It is true that the atmosphere of Gothic menace is present in both films. However, when one sees Dan Leno, played excellently by Douglas Booth, or considers the hidden machinations of other colourful characters, suddenly the film is not so much about horror and gore, but about these extravagant personages competing with each other for attention. In some way, the film also even reminds of David Fincher’s “Seven” (1995), because, as in that movie, the murders take Inspector Kildare to a library, where he has to understand the deranged logic of a serial killer in order to catch him. Moreover, as in “Seven”, it is through the books borrowed by the murderer that the detectives first begin to have clues as to the actual murderer.
“The Limehouse Golem” has a parade of talented actors attached. The character of Inspector Kildare was reserved for Alan Rickman, but when that distinguished actor sadly passed away, Bill Nighy took his place, and did a marvellous job. His character is a determined one, but also appears as a compassionate individual, firmly set upon the task of not only finding and punishing the culpable for the murders, but also doing justice for the people inadvertently caught up in a maze created by gruesome murders. As such, Inspector Kildare has to run against time to find the true murderer of serial killings and, in that way, hopefully, save Lizzie from being sentenced to death for the murder. Olivia Cooke (Elisabeth Cree) and Douglas Booth (Dan Leno) are probably the actors who stand out the most, but it is also mesmerising to watch such actors as Eddie Marsan as Uncle and Daniel Mays as Constable George Flood.
The over-stuffed plot in this film does not have enough space to breathe given the time pressures, but this does not make “The Limehouse Golem” less compelling. The film audience may be confused and gasping for pause in some places, but the viewing will be rewarding given the deliciously macabre atmosphere of the movie, the intriguing and suspenseful story, the stellar performance of its cast and the unexpected twist ending. 8/10