Saturday 2 March 2024

Horror Film Review: Doctor Jekyll (2023) ★★★☆☆ (Hammer Films)

Oh, let our dark hearts rejoice! Hammer Films has risen from the dead, resurrected in an acquisition by British theatre producer John Gore. The first film on the revived Hammer slab is Joe Stephenson’s Doctor Jekyll, starring Eddie Izzard, Scott Chambers and Lindsay Duncan. A creepy mansion, an unpredictable scientist; will this modern retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde deliver?

Doctor Jekyll (2023) banner

Rob (Scott Chambers, Malevolent) is fresh out of prison. Downtrodden and defeated, he needs to get a job before he can visit his sick daughter in hospital. In a suspicious stroke of luck, he secures an interview for a carer position for the reclusive Doctor Nina Jekyll (Eddie Izzard). Incredibly, he gets the position but seems immediately to be on a collision course with Jekyll’s assistant, Sandra (Lindsay Duncan). It doesn’t take long for Rob to work out that something sinister lurks in the shadowed halls of Jekyll’s mansion but he might be looking in the wrong places for the source of the danger.

From the opening credits, Doctor Jekyll harks back to the glory days of Hammer Films. A sense of unease permeates every scene, heightened by Rob’s naivety and inexperience. While scary in parts, Doctor Jekyll is not about jump scares so much as that Kafkaesque feeling of doom. What would you do if your own morals got in the way of your success?

Always stay two steps ahead

Rob walks through the gates to the mansion in Doctor Jekyll (2023)

Cinematographer Birgit Dierken makes excellent use of light and shadows, bright colours and silhouettes in the film. Much of the film takes place in Jekyll’s mansion with its Escher artworks and locked doors. One scene that stood out for me was right at the beginning when Rob walks through the gates of the mansion. He is captured from above with the long shadows of the iron gates trailing him. It is deeply foreshadowing; which will catch Rob first, his past or what lies beyond those gates?

Scott Chambers gives an excellent performance as Rob (full name Robert Louis Stevenson, of course). He is believable as a young man who finds himself adrift and quite lost, trying to become a different person to the one that landed him in prison. Eddie Izzard gives a likewise excellent performance as Nina Jekyll, with a compelling and powerful presence onscreen.

Eddie Izzard is Nina Jekyll in Doctor Jekyll (2023)

I was thoroughly enjoying Doctor Jekyll right up until the final act. I can think of far more satisfying endings or reveals for a film that proved itself willing to change the source material. Nevertheless, it’s down to personal taste and I can imagine will leave audiences divided.

Scott Chambers is Rob in Doctor Jekyll (2023)
I give Doctor Jekyll a good three out of five stars. Director Justin Kurzel has delivered a creepy film, deserving of the Hammer Horror banner, but the plot somehow prevents this film from being elevated to four stars. I didn’t love the ending but I liked it enough to seek out further works from Scott Chambers and Joe Stephenson.

Doctor Jekyll will be available on Digital Download from 11th March

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Trailer: Doctor Jekyll (2023), dir: Joe Stephenson


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