In an age of big special effects, over the top monsters, and all too shallow plotlines, it’s easy to forget that really good stories not only exist but can still thrill viewers in unexpected ways. Luckily, from time to time, a film like The Limehouse Golem comes along to remind us of that very fact.
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina with a script by Jane Goldman (who also wrote the screenplay for The Woman in Black) based on the novel by Peter Ackroyd, The Limehouse Golem tells the story of Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) a former music hall actress who’s accused of murdering her husband (Sam Reid). At the time of his death, however, there’s a much larger case that’s rocked an entire community. A killer known only as the Limehouse Golem has committed a series of brutal murders, the last including an entire family. Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) from Scotland Yard has been brought in to solve the case, and to serve as a fall guy for the Yard if he cannot.
Kildare soon realizes the two cases are inextricably linked but discovering the killer’s identity may put more at risk than his career.
It’s a beautiful throwback film, embracing the tropes of the great British mysteries that came before it. No one is completely innocent and guilt lies not only on the killer but on the people who helped create them. The streets are just a little too clean, and the poor just a little too healthy looking, for it to all be completely believed, and yet we do. It is mystery theater at its best, inviting the audience to put the pieces of the puzzle together having no idea what the larger picture truly is.
Bill Nighy (Underworld, Pirates of the Caribbean) turns in a brilliant, understated performance as Kildare consciously choosing a subtle approach to this intelligent and caring man. Interestingly enough, Alan Rickman was originally cast in the role, but when his health began to deteriorate he had to leave the production. Nighy stepped in, and while one cannot help but imagine Rickman in the role, it is undeniable that the film did not suffer in the least with the substitution.
Cooke (“Bates Motel”, The Quiet Ones), an undeniably talented actress, is serviceable in the role of Lizzie, at once strong and vulnerable, and yet there were times where her performance was overwhelmed by those around her. About half the movie passes before she finds her even footing with Nighy and some of her co-stars. That firm footing locks into place, and the second half of the film is the better for it.
It is Douglas Booth (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jupiter Ascending) who steals this show, however. As music hall performer Dan Leno, Booth is magnetic, radiating sex, mystery, and danger. He is beautifully ambiguous in his desires and commanding on stage in 19th century drag, and the screen sizzled with his charisma each time he appeared.
Medina, who I was surprised to find only had four directing credits to his name on IMDb, directs his cast beautifully with an innate ability to balance silence with dialogue and stillness with action to fully tell the story of The Limehouse Golem. Many a horror director could take lessons from Medina in the realm of gore. His murder scenes are seriously gory, but he doesn’t linger. He gives us just enough to take in the scene before cutting away quickly leaving an afterimage for the viewer to process. The method is extremely effective.
The Limehouse Golem releases September 8, 2017 in theaters and on demand from Number 9 Films in associate with RLJ Entertainment and Lionsgate among others. Check out the trailer below!