The Limehouse Golem Review: Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke star in this Gothic mystery thriller
Every single inch of director Juan Carlos Medina’s adaptation of Peter Ackroyd’s novel The Limehouse Golem is delicious, if you like this sort of thing. By that I mean, if you like richly-detailed, kinky, elegant and Gothic period mysteries spiked with violence and laced with sexuality, all things the movie has in big, blood-dipped spades. It’s another venture into Victorian-era, Jack the Ripper-steeped costume slasher territory and my God is it a work of dark, quietly mind-bending pop-art.
Veteran British actor Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead, the Underworld films and the underrated comedy Still Crazy) plays Scotland Yard inspector John Kildare (he replaced Alan Rickman, who passed away during pre-production), who is vest deep trying to solved the murders committed by the titular fiend, a mad killer who stalks the east end of London. Pushed to his breaking point by the case, he soon becomes interested in another case, that of performer Little Lizzie (Olivia Cooke, who is magnificent) who is accused of poisoning her husband. The crusading Kildare finds a link between the mysteries, convinced that Lizzie’s husband is in fact the Golem and he thinks that if he can prove this, he can rescue the damsel in distress.
Much of the movie (which has been earning rave praise after its year long festival run) is told primarily via a two-handed framing device with flashbacks from Lizzie related to Kildare regarding her miserable childhood, with Kildare getting more and more embroiled in her plight. But all is not what it seems in this serpentine film, a character drama and jet black, pulpy freefall into psyschodrama that — thanks to its two central performances — sucks you in and keeps you in.
This is Medina’s first English-language movie and his Spanish sensibility turns the restrained, sober narrative into something more phantasmagorical, almost fairy tale like, with cerebral sparks flying between Nighy and Cooke and the entire movie draped in thick, menacing atmosphere. It’s like Sherlock Holmes with a sex drive. And special mention must also go to the score by Swedish composer John Soderqvist (whose chilling work in the contemporary vampire classic Let the Right One In was really that film’s secret hero), which serves as the tonal blueprint for the rich, brooding, evocative and menacing tapestry of music that milks dread out of every moment.
Of course, The Limehouse Golem won’t be for all contemporary tastes, with its deliberate pace alienating some modern horror fans. But who cares. For those of us whose hearts skip beats at seeing good actors dressed in finery and speaking such eloquent prose (Jane Goldman‘s script is incredibly articulate), this is a must see. Between this and the upcoming British ghost story The Lodgers (stay tuned for our review out of TIFF this week), it feels like the Gothic chiller is making a triumphant comeback. We’re in.
The Limehouse Golem hits theaters and VOD on September 8th.