To Hell and back

From Hell

Directed by Allen & Albert Hughes

(Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane)

R

 

Forget the Kennedy assassination, Area 51 or Roswell, New Mexico. For a span of ten weeks in the fall of 1888 lurked the most infamous subject of conspiracy theories and tabloids: Jack the Ripper.

Adapted from the as-billed graphic novel (and rightfully so) of the same name, From Hell paves a fictionalized and wholly intriguing story from the facts behind the nightmarish legend that, like the Boogeyman, became the bedtime threat ringing through the ears of misbehaved British children. With its name borrowed from the return address of one of Jack’s letters, From Hell begins a psychological retreat into one conspiracy that birthed and ended the Ripper’s reign.

Beneath London’s blood-red skies, the Hughes’ treat the whole picture with a meticulous deliberation, an effective pacing of the story that develops anxiety to its fullest. This pace also eases the audience into the gore we all (want and) know is coming. The trick that the Hughes’ pull, however, is taking it this one step at a time, building anticipation up to the feeding of our grotesque desire. What begins as insinuated material (referring to his knife, a gangboss threatens a prostitute with, “This friend of mine will be your next customer.”), soon ends up in the grisly act itself.

After the nightmarish chills of From Hell‘s climactic revelation recede, the Hughes brothers, surely celebrating the glory of their grisly accomplishment, stagger back to the characters drunk from their own vigor. In an attempt to revert back to their characters in a prologue-ish afterthought, they falter, clashing scenes of Hollywood splendor (pull out from a small ocean-side cottage) with purely anti-Hollywood elements (the hero chooses not to get the girl). The final ten minutes is at best a mixed indecisiveness that tries to appease both sides of the fence, but left me wondering how closely the Hughes’ interpretation followed the last few pages of the novel.

-M.G.

 

From Hell opens today in theaters nationwide.