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The Limehouse Golem (Movie Review)

The Limehouse Golem (Movie Review)
09.05.2017by: Cody Hamman
6 10

PLOT: A Scotland Yard investigator finds that a musical theatre actress has ties to a series of gruesome killings.

REVIEW: The most positive thing I can say about THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM is that director Juan Carlos Medina had a commendable confidence in the way he chose to bring the story written by Jane Goldman (based on the 1994 novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd) to the screen. Due to the style and structure, a portion of the viewing audience is going to find this film to be absolutely impenetrable - and I can attest to this because I was confounded by it from time to time myself. It lures you in by promising to tell the tale of a search for a serial killer, but a dramatic character study overshadows the thrills and chills until late in the running time.

The tale plays out in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time, and it's told through characters with accents so thick you're likely to miss a good chunk of what they're saying unless you have the subtitles on. It's a detective story that begins after several murders have already been committed, which you might imagine is a way for a film to hit the ground running, but it actually makes it harder to follow because the investigators are referencing victims and crime scenes (and crimes that happened decades further in the past) that we have no knowledge of. This is a film that's only going to be embraced by a niche audience while putting off a lot of viewers, and Medina went for it without any evidence of hesitation.

Bill Nighy (who had to step in after the previously cast Alan Rickman left due to health issues) stars as Scotland Yard investigator John Kildare, who has been tasked with bringing the Limehouse Golem to justice, "The Limehouse Golem" being the nickname the public and media have given to the perpetrator of a series of gruesome murders in the Limehouse district of London in 1880.

Kildare's investigation brings him into contact with some real life historical figures - musical theatre actor Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), author George Gissing (Morgan Watkins) - but it's Leno's fellow actor Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) who ends up being his primary focus. Lizzie happens to be in police custody, accused of poisoning her husband... who was a prime Golem suspect.

This is where the dramatic character study aspect comes in, as Kildare hears Lizzie's entire life story while trying to get to the bottom of what happened between the Crees. Most of THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM's 109 minutes are dedicated to showing us Lizzie's escape from a horrific childhood into the world of musical theatre, where she becomes a star alongside Leno. Cooke, who played a fan favorite character on the Bates Motel television series, does a fantastic job in this film, there is no flaw in her performance, but this is not the story I expected to be seeing when I put on GOLEM, so the more time we spent in Lizzie's past the more tiring and frustrating it started to become. 

I expected there to be more serial killing in this serial killer film, and the scenes where we were shown some of that were my favorites. These moments come when Kildare considers the likelihood of a suspect being the killer, and we get to see the suspect carry out a version of one of the murders while the Golem narrates in a demonic voice. That was much more interesting to me than watching Lizzie find herself on stage.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM isn't a bad movie, it looks wonderful and the cast does great work bringing their characters to life, I just found the way the story was told to be rather dull and disappointing. This approach didn't work for me very well. The movie got more enjoyable and interesting as it went along, and I will say that there's a satisfying pay-off to spending so much time witnessing Lizzie's story, but getting to that pay-off was challenging.

If you're a fan of Cooke and/or Nighy, or if you like oddball stories set in Victorian England, you might want to give THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM a chance. However, I do not recommend trying to watch this film while drowsy, because it is very likely to knock you unconscious.

Extra Tidbit: RLJ Entertainment will release THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM on VOD and in select theatres on September 8th.

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