When it comes to Victorian era serial killers, Jack the Ripper is pretty much a household name. Whether you know much about the terror he caused in White Chapel, all these years later you still know the name and what he did. With The Limehouse Golem, the filmmakers create a more sinister serial killer and deliver a Hammer-esque murder mystery. I’m all for a dark murder mystery, and when a film is channeling other successful films like Seven and From Hell, you’d imagine that you’d be witnessing a terrifying gory spectacle. The result, however, left me frustrated, as the film seems to pull from other films but never quite presents an engaging story to go along with the quirky mix of characters.
When we meet Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), she is being accused of murdering her husband. As the film progresses, we get to see how her story unfolds and her aspirations to be a theatrical star. Her tale intertwines with the rise of a brutal serial killer who has been terrifying the city of London who has been dubbed The Golem. To attempt to squash rising fears and solve the murders, Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) is assigned the case. Kildare is paired with a young detective George Flood (Daniel Mays), who attempts to update Kildare with all the evidence of the case. It seems Flood and his fellow officers were inept in gathering evidence, as Kildare seems to uncover some fairly obvious clues of his own. What ties Lizzie to Kildare is the possibility that she is being charged with murdering Kildare’s prime suspect. All the evidence seems to point to Lizzie’s dead husband, so he goes to her to hear her story. Of course things are more complicated than they originally seem.
The first act of this film feels like a Victorian ea remake of Seven. Gruesome crimes as a seasoned detective coaches a young detective about evidence, and even a scene where the pair investigate the library where many clues are found. Had this just focused on the two detectives and their personal lives while trying to solve the case, the result would have been a more clear and defined narrative. Instead the film decides to weigh the viewer down with the story of Lizzie and her wanting to be a star on the stage. Despite trying to inject quirky characters that work in the theater and present them as potential killers, the result is yawn-worthy. As the story stretches on, several real-life characters like Karl Marx (Henry Goodman) are injected as possible suspects, and we see Kildare attempt to fit these suspects in as the actual killer.
As the film goes on, it’s difficult to take this film seriously as a “whodunit”, because each suspect and their motivations seem more and more like a stretch on reality that it grows difficult to care who the killer is. The killer seems to even take a back seat, as all the attention seems to go to Lizzie wanting to star in a play and eventually getting married. Had the film trimmed more of the stage story from the film and brought this in to a leaner 90 minutes instead of its 109-minute runtime, I feel the film could have worked better.
The performances here are what kept me engaged. As a long time fan of Bill Nighy, it was nice to see him taking on the role of a sleuth, and it does make me curious what he could do with taking on the role as a refined Sherlock Holmes. It’s Olivia Cooke, though, who does steal the film and gives the audience such a dynamic performance that she makes the contrived plot more bearable than it should be. When the film goes into darker realms with the characters, the film shines to a point, but as the story stretches on it just feels as though everyone is grasping at straws to keep the story going and the audience guessing. Personally the payoff isn’t worth it, and it presents more questions than answers.
The Limehouse Golem is presented in the aspect ratio 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 22 mbps. The look of the film is a bit of a mixed bag. The focus seems a bit soft at times and results in a loss of detail, which is disappointing, since the set design is one of the best things going for the look of the film. The film goes for a natural look with a lot of locations under a candlelit hue. Textures in the costumes and sets come through nicely. The film has a saturated and drab look that results in pale skin tones. Red seems to be the color that looks a bit off, which seems odd considering blood is a color you know at some point you’ll end up seeing multiple times here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a bit under used here. There are a few scenes in the crowded theater where we get a good mix with the surround speakers being utilized. For the most part this is a dialog-driven story, and the dialog is presented clearly.
The Making of The Limehouse Golem: (6:26) The cast and crew discuss what brought them to the project.
The Cast of The Limehouse Golem: (2:45) Typical montage of interviews with the cast praising one another on their performances.
The Look of The Limehouse Golem: (2:41) A discussion about the looks that inspired the film.
The Locations of The Limehouse Golem: (2:30) The cast and crew discuss the set designs of the film.
Every time I review a film, I always come from the perspective as a fan first, and it’s later I start being more critical of the film or show. With The Limehouse Golem, my issues with the film came out of frustration as a fan. I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery, and the first third of this film is great, but once the subplots kick in, this film quickly began to lose me. When you are making a film about a serial killer, it is a terrible idea to throw in as a side plot, the rise of a stage actress. It’s one thing to give the character depth, but in this case, shifting the focus to the stage the film seems to lose focus on what it’s all about. It’s a film worth checking out if you are a fan of the time period, but I wouldn’t go searching this title out otherwise.