The tagline for The Limehouse Golem boasts that its fictional Victorian London serial killer precedes the infamous Jack the Ripper. We have yet to see a compelling cinematic take on the Ripper murders (including the Hughes Brothers’ tragically underwhelming Johnny Depp vehicle From Hell). Though it merely draws inspiration from the Ripper, The Limehouse Golem suggests that we may have to wait a bit longer.
Bill Nighy stars as John Kildare, an inspector for Scotland Yard tasked with uncovering the identity of the mysterious Limehouse Golem, a serial killer who has been leaving cryptic messages in blood at the crime scene (if you’re wondering, Limehouse is a district in London). In addition to discovering the killer’s diary in a library, Kildare makes a breakthrough in the case when John Cree (Sam Reid), a leading suspect, is ostensibly poisoned by his wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Cooke), who stands on trial for her crimes.
Much of the story is told through flashbacks as Kildare tries to piece together the evidence that may link Cree to the murders. This amusingly requires him to interview several characters, including Elizabeth, the actor Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), and perhaps most humorously, Karl Marx (Henry Goodman).
Constructed as horror-mystery, director Juan Carlos Medina and screenwriter Jane Goldman (The Woman in Black, the Kingsman series) excel at providing grisly violence. Where the film stumbles is the mystery part. Medina and Goldman are either cynical or lazy, and barely obfuscate the true identity of the killer. The From Hell comparison may be productive here, since it was perfectly obvious who the Ripper was based entirely on the trailer.
For a film about actors, the performances are relatively uneven. Nighy lacks his usual charisma. Cooke has her moments, but ultimately fails to live up to the character’s potential. The most surprising turn here is from Douglas Booth, who has starred in a handful films now (including this month’s Loving Vincent), but this is the clearest sense of his talent yet.
The Limehouse Golem is weighed down by its predictability and forced acting. While respectably atmospheric, it’s hard to recall any one image or any one scene, although there are some admittedly grisly acts of violence. Whatever potential Limehouse has is squandered by incompetent storytelling.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile