Tuesday, October 27, 2015

From Hell


  A movie about Jack the Ripper, starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, and Ian Holm. What could go wrong? I ask un-ironically as that was literally the pitch that made me want to watch this movie. From Hell is a nightmarish and highly fictionalized romp that plays fast and loose with facts despite dealing with real events. But, see, it's not based on real events. It's based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc.). Oh and this movie is not directed by Tim Burton. Go figure. The movie is directed by The Hughes Brothers, who's previous efforts include Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. Neither of those movies clicked with me, but their foray into Gothic slasher territory has at last caught my attention.

  Anyways, no matter which way you slice it, From Hell is an interesting watch. It's a very uncomplicated movie to be honest despite trying to be a mystery. Since the movie involves much less actual investigating than a Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes flick, twists and clues are discovered pretty much only when Depp's character is deep in an opium high. The story is typical slasher fare with big ambitions, but ones it doesn't really reach. Moreover, the plot is just a string of continual exposition marked only by scenes of Jack the Ripper brutalizing his victims. The movie settles into a rhythm soon enough and repeats itself right up until the last act.

  That's not to say From Hell is boring or not well made, on the contrary. The movie is extremely atmospheric. It feels grimy and unsafe, you almost feel as paranoid as the prostitutes who are Jack's potential victims. Many movies strive for a feel and an atmosphere as rich and vivid as this movie has, and most never achieve it. The movie takes it's own stab at the true identity of The Ripper, and whether or not it follows the graphic novel it's based on, I wouldn't know- I haven't read it yet. As the plot pieces, loose and thin as they may be, fall into place- the movie reveals it has an interesting concept on it's hands. I won't give it away, because if you're searching for some decent seasonal viewing before Halloween rolls around, you might want to give this one a shot.

   There's not really much mystery in the movie, though there's plenty of danger and macabre intrigue. Mystery requires clues and investigation, and while the streets in From Hell are awash in crime scenes that are full of clues, the subsequent investigation is little more than Depp's character spinning wild theories every ten minutes fueled by whatever he has on hand. Usually absinthe with a bit of laudanum. He has psychic visions apparently, though fat lot of good they do him- everyone he sees in his visions are usually being killed as he's tripping balls. From Hell is clearly less concerned with how's and why's as is it with being as vividly nightmarish as possible.

  Not that there's anything wrong with that, some of the imagery in this movie will stick with me for a very long time. You get glimpses of freakish things and of the grisly murders, but by and large you don't see them. When you do, it's all that much more shocking. From Hell may be more popularly considered a thriller, but it does away with a lot of logical trappings required in a thriller of this sort, and introduces some more extreme elements more at home in a balls-to-bone horror movie. Jack the Ripper isn't just a serial killer here, he's almost demonic. The killings aren't unlike ritualistic slayings and the Ripper's presence is always preceded by his carriage, which is like a ferry to Hell itself. It manages to stand out in a vaguely evil way, with it's sharp metal folding steps, and it's green hued lanterns. You wouldn't put it past Satan himself to show up in a ride like this.

  It's in details like this that the movie shines. It's going to be reduced to memories as soon as it's over, but when those memories are of freakish images, brutalized corpses, and the eerie alleys of 18th century London... I'd say the movie does what it set out to quite well. The acting might be uneven at times, and the writing is no better, but the production design, the makeup effects, the atmosphere and the score all work hand-in-hand to make a richly Gothic horror movie that's well worth a look. Not saying you wouldn't be better off with something like Se7en instead, but From Hell earns the right to exist if nothing else.

   It was a well directed assembly of gruesome material and shock imagery. It can be chastised for not being more, for not being better, but I enjoyed it for what it was. It's an odd movie, but I like that about it. It really brings to life the horrors of Jack the Ripper. It's accuracy probably leaves something to be desired, but with stories about people like the Ripper, it's often more about the images it leaves you with. A lot of the stuff you see in this movie is horrific, what's worse is often the things you don't see. This is where your imagination can fill in the blanks, though I'm not sure you'd want to. All in all, From Hell isn't a bad movie, but it's not a great one either. I like it nevertheless and I might even buy it someday. Recommended, with a grain of salt.

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