Although the movie isn’t the landmark event we were all hoping for, Doctor Jekyll brings Hammer back from the grave with a well-deserved bang.
It’s time for the resurrection of a titan of British cinema. Hammer Horror has been a household name for well over six decades, but recently, the studio has faded into obscurity. News of a takeover had fans fearing the worst, but now, with new owner John Gore in place, the studio is rising from its slumber fully refreshed and ready to throw down the horror gauntlet.
Now, after years of waiting in the shadows, the studio is back with a contemporary take on the Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde legacy. Led by the brilliant Eddie Izzard, the movie hits cinema screens today. But can John Gore resurrect the studio from the ashes with a colossal success? Or has the time spent in limbo forced the horror giant to lose its luster?
Fear not Hammer fans because DOCTOR JEKYLL is a wonderful return to form. Although the movie isn’t the landmark event we were all hoping for, it does put the studio back on the map in a big way. Director Joe Stephenson has crafted a beautifully atmospheric vehicle for Eddie Izzard to truly shine. It’s chilling to watch and impossible to ignore and thankfully, it brings the studio back from the grave with a well-deserved bang.
For the most part, the movie stays true to the building blocks of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. Albeit in a slightly contemporary way. The creative decision to gender-swap the main character was a bold one, but when Eddie Izzard comes to the fore, the role reversal is a no-brainer. And I am delighted to report that Izzard is a true force to be reckoned with here. Despite the gender swap, the character is truly chilling. The subtle nuances between Jekyll and Hyde are a delight to watch, and Izzard taps into the soul of both to deliver a truly energetic performance. But I digress, back to the plot.
Larger-than-life figure Eddie Izzard plays Dr Nina Jekyll, a pharmaceutical billionaire who now lives in stately isolation. Requiring round-the-clock care, she enlists the services of Rob (Scott Chambers) who despite being criminally unqualified for the position catches Nina’s eye. After a woeful job interview, the new live-in caregiver begins his new role at Jekyll’s beck and call. But soon, a series of strange occurrences begin to unfold putting Rob on edge, especially when Jekyll is puffing away at her glowing green cigarette. A guilty pleasure that triggers a change in the usually placid Doctor Jekyll.
Now, here’s where things start to unravel. Joe Stephenson grounded the film in reality by having the story take place in modern-day England. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a detraction but Hammer made its name with iconic period horrors that captured the imagination. Here, the material just feels passable. Especially when Rob and his fleetingly involved brother are conversing in street slang.
The distinction is never more apparent than when Rob and Jekyll share a few well-placed quiet moments. Jekyll is a well-spoken, well-educated individual living with certain principles, while Rob uses street slang and misplaced wit to keep up. Even when his job is on the line, the torrent of “Bruv” slang is never far from his lips. After a while, the parallels of suburban life blur the line between realism and escapism and take something away from the film. I went into the film expecting an updated take on the source material. But after a while, the project began to move away from the fantasy to sink into the ordinary. And while it doesn’t ruin the film, it definitely diminishes its impact.
For the most part, the tone and atmosphere of the project hits all the right notes. The stately manor serves as the main setting for the film, and Stephenson uses its size to full effect. The hallways are dark and foreboding. The rooms are often glum despite being rich and luxurious, and there is a dark shroud constantly hanging over the property. In truth, the manor feels like a character in its own right. Its facade changes whenever Jekyll lights up her eerie green glowing cigarette. The property takes on a whole new persona when Hyde comes to the fore, and that is a wonderful representation of the personality shift between the doctor and her inner monster.
Sadly, the monster aspects are few and far between here. Especially as the inner monster is represented as a change in personality instead of the traditional change in appearance. Which was a massive letdown. As a monster movie fanatic and fan of all things Hammer, I was relishing the chance to witness the rebirth of a classic monster. But sadly, my appetite for a true creature feature was left unsatisfied. If you were hoping for a vintage Hammer monster movie, you’ll need to check your expectations at the door. This contemporary reimagining isn’t made that way. Instead, we are rewarded with a wonderful character study of a visionary and her inner monster brought to life by a true icon of British cinema. And although this won’t necessarily meet expectations, one cannot help but marvel at Izzard’s immense performance.
Overall, I had a mixed experience with Doctor Jekyll. Robert Louis Stevenson’s source material demands a landmark interpretation from its main antagonist. And Eddie Izzard rises to the challenge to deliver a truly standout performance. However, their efforts are mired by the contemporary setting that has more in common with Eastenders than it does with old-school Hammer. The tone is dark and foreboding, the traditional Hammer credits are refreshed and restored to their past glory, and Blair Mowat delivers a wonderfully bombastic score. One that fits the material to perfection. The composer’s music oozes the intensity of the personality shift of Izzard’s performance with some truly chilling soundscapes. But with a storyline practically devoid of all horror, it feels like a missed opportunity.
Doctor Jekyll may not be the landmark event we were all hoping for, but it does put the studio back on the map in a big way. And that alone is worth celebrating. The movie is a gloriously atmospheric but serviceable outing that will delight audiences everywhere. If this is the opening salvo to a new era at Hammer, bigger and better things are on the horizon. And that is a tantalizing prospect. But if John Gore fails to propagate more of Hammer’s true horror roots, the studio will be back on life support sooner rather than later.
A true icon of British cinema has been resurrected with mixed results. So book your tickets, move to the edge of your seat, and experience the brilliance of Eddie Izzard’s chilling character study. Just don’t wait around for the monster because it doesn’t come out to play here – and that is the only monstrous thing on display!
Doctor Jekyll is playing in cinemas nationwide now.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!