With Halloween right around the corner, one can expect a flood of cheesy gore films hitting the local Cineplex. Twentieth Century Fox’s “From Hell,” however, tries to be different from the typical Halloween slasher film by being an intelligent and beautifully shot thriller that focuses on the legendary tale of Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, no matter how æsthetically pleasing the film may be, its slow pace and a lack of on-screen chemistry between Johnny Depp and Heather Graham prevent the movie from being the intelligent and haunting thriller it could have been.
“From Hell,” based on the novel by the same name, tells the story of Jack the Ripper, a man who in 1888 murdered five prostitutes in two and a half months. Although Jack the Ripper was never caught in real life, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s novel (and thus the film) focuses on a conspiracy between the murderer and the highest powers in England, and the inspector (Johnny Depp) whose job is to protect those he foresees as being the next victims.
Mixing terror with romance, directors Allen and Albert Hughes direct a visually stunning film that will be sure to please audiences æsthetically. Everything from the costumes to the streets of London is in place to bring back the legendary setting of Jack the Ripper’s murders. The film, which was shot in Prague, even features a re-creation of the Whitechapel district of London where the five prostitutes lost their lives in order to make the story even more realistic. Add to this the numerous castles the Hughes Brothers shot in and viewers have 1888 London all over again.
As beautiful as the film’s sets are though, the bloody and gruesome murders could easily take away from the visual eye-candy cinematographer Peter Deming offers viewers. Luckily for those with weak stomachs, the Hughes Brothers tame down the murder scenes and– outside one particularly graphic scene– refrain from showing much blood at all. Still, like The Blair Witch Project proved two years ago, sometimes the most haunting images and murders can be those heard off-screen, and screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafæl Yglesias definitely write a script that details the murders verbally when the Hughes Brothers refrain from showing it visually.
Sadly, despite its beautifully constructed sets, “From Hell” has its share of weaknesses that will quickly take viewers out of the story. One of these weaknesses is the overall pacing of the film. At 2 hours and 17 minutes, “From Hell” drags on and loses the artistic feel it had an hour into it. Even though the film is intentionally staying away from the typical MTV-style editing that most horror films have these days, viewers will find themselves wishing for some faster cuts before the film is halfway done. And when the movie doesn’t pick up its pace, audiences will soon find themselves growing bored.
Another flaw within the film is the film’s casting. Although Johnny Depp does a great job with the character he is given, his character lacks the depth and intrigue his past roles have had. In fact, given the tone of “From Hell” and the way the trailers are promoting the film, it will be easy for viewers to walk away from the movie comparing his character to Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, his portrayal of Investigator Fred Abberline doesn’t come close to capturing the drive and devotion for his case that he achieved with Ichabod Crane.
Although part of Depp’s less-than-stellar performance (compared to his past work at least) is to blame on the script, most of it can be blamed on the woman he is playing opposite of, Heather Graham. While Graham’s performance isn’t nearly as horrible as some of her past work (for instance, Bowfinger and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), Graham and Depp lack the on-screen chemistry that’s needed for the romantic subplot to be pulled off successfully. This leaves viewers not only caring less whether or not the two end up happily ever after, but also unable to understand the devotion Depp’s character has towards making sure Graham’s character survives outside the fact that it’s his job.
While “From Hell” could have been a beautiful and suspenseful thriller, lukewarm performances make the film just another movie to add to one’s “rent-it-when-it-comes-to-DVD” list. Although it’s debatable whether or not it’s one of those films that has to be seen on the big-screen in order to fully enjoy it, if you can’t find time to see “From Hell” in it’s opening week you’re better off waiting for the DVD since the 2001 Oscar-contending films are right around the corner. At least on DVD it’s easy to skip those few scenes that drag on forever, and for those who have a weak stomach, to avoid the one scene that looks like it was taken out of Hannibal.
Read the interview with “From Hell” star Johnny Depp in IN DEPPTH: A JOHNNY DEPP INTERVIEW>>>