Appropriating the opium dream framing device from Sergio Leoni’s Once Upon a Time in America, the Hughes Brothers serve up a druggy supernatural thriller involving Jack the Ripper, Freemasons, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Do the conspiracy theories make any sense to a sober mind? Not really. Does that matter? Not really, because the film is so much fun to look at. Based on a graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, From Hell is a dark (both literally and figuratively) visual delight. The cinematography, production design, art direction, costumes, CGI and editing deliver lurid colors and arresting images in keeping with the story’s seamy, violent subject matter.
The performances are less impressive. But perhaps that is to be expected, given that the characters began their existences as cartoons. The two serious, “pull you out of the movie,” performances are by Ian Holm and Ian McNeice. Holm is a brilliant actor; however, he is woefully miscast as The Ripper. At 5’ 5” and sixty-nine years old, Holm simply isn’t an imposing enough physical presence to make a truly terrifying antagonist. And McNeice is in another movie altogether. His scenery-chewing performance as coroner Robert Drudge is supposed to emphasize the especially brutal character of The Ripper’s slayings by showing that even a jaded veteran of the London city morgue is unnerved by them. But instead of getting an unnerved veteran, we get what appears to be a hysterical neophyte.
It is worth mentioning that From Hell’s opium rush montages give Requiem for a Dream’s drug-taking sequences a run for their money. And, in From Hell, the mind-bending trips have a narrative purpose, for the Hughes Brothers not only fetishize the paraphernalia Inspector Abberline uses to get high, but also make excellent use of those highs to introduce the inspector’s psychic “visions” into the story.
In short, From Hell provides a whole lot of style and very little substance; which, in this instance, is okay by me.
Rating System: The rationale behind the rating system can be found here. Scoring is color coded: Theme : Plot : Character : Dialogue : Acting : Cinematography
From Hell 1: 2: 2: 2: 2: 5 IMDB