Directed by Nick Stillwell
Distributed by Lionsgate
Don’t let the title of this film be the cause of any preconceived negative judgments against it. I know I did … but really who could blame me? I saw Jekyll + Hyde on the cover and cringed almost immediately. How many times can Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and the notorious Mr. Hyde be told and retold before it wears out its welcome completely? And how could someone think that they were going to be able to make anything but the same old stale account of man turned monster? Well, I can honestly tell you that this Jekyll + Hyde is like none I’ve ever seen!
Jekyll + Hyde takes the age-old tale and breathes new life into it with a modern spin and ingenuity that caused me to take pause. There are all the basic elements of the original Jekyll and Hyde, but they are done in such a way that I never once thought to myself, Oh, I’ve seen this before. Instead I watched as a beloved classic was skillfully turned on its ear.
In this retelling of the story a pair of talented medical students, Mary Glover and Henry Jekyll, set out to produce a drug that, when taken, would augment and alter the user’s personality. They decided to use the street drug Ecstasy as the foundation of their own creation. The subsequent experimentation leads to some unexpected and tragic results.
J. and Mary belong to a small group of close-knit friends that seem inseparable. The dynamics of this group change drastically when Mary mysteriously overdoses and dies. The remaining friends are severely affected by the death, and their bonds seem stronger save for that of J. To the alarm and dismay of the rest, J. ostracizes himself from their pack and becomes increasingly distant.
A rash of violent attacks and brutal deaths breaks out on and around campus. The group takes another blow when Martha’s cousin ends up being one of the victims, and the members temporarily drift further apart. After several weeks of separation the friends meet up again. Their conversations begin to focus on J.
After sabotaging his own medical career, J. goes into near seclusion. Unbeknownst to his friends J. has become consumed with his forbidden research. All they know is that he has been exhibiting radical changes both behaviorally and physically. Fearing for her friend’s well-being, Martha takes it upon herself to discover the truth behind J.’s sudden and frightening transformation. In her search for answers Martha finds herself face to face with a grisly reality that she could never have prepared herself for.
I may have gone into the viewing of this film filled with doubts, but by the time it was finished, I wanted to watch it again. From the distinctive story to Patrick Doyle’s haunting musical score, I was totally engrossed. The acting was top-notch, and the director’s use of space throughout the film was remarkable to say the least. Even the visual and make-up effects were particularly well done. It was also truly refreshing in this day of the remake to see a film with such an innovative approach to a story that has been told so many times before, usually with the same mediocre result.
Bryan Fisher is notably outstanding in the double role of Jekyll/Hyde. Fisher gradually modifies his entire being throughout the course of the film, going from a mild mannered med student to a crazed, callous fiend. I was extremely impressed with how effectively he portrayed the transformation of Jekyll to Hyde without the aide of the prosthetic crutches typically seen used in the role. Instead he relies on actual talent and ingenuity to get the hideous point across.
I could easily sing praises for Jekyll + Hyde all day, but to be totally honest, it is not without error. Though I don’t believe that a film needs to be gory or gruesome to be effective as horror, I do think that J + H may have pulled a few too many punches in the violence department. The focus didn’t need to be on the brutality, but it is an integral part of Jekyll’s ultimate transformation. Instead of showing the audience what is happening, the screen all too often fades to black, leaving only the sounds to communicate the bloodshed to the audience. The end result of the brutality is rarely ever exposed.
Another problem that I had was the fact that this loving group of close friends seems to completely disregard the fact that Mary’s death was due to drug use. I understand that drugs and their use are the core of the film, but it seemed absurd to have these kids running willy-nilly, washing down handfuls of pills with booze and then following it all up with a joint chaser especially so soon after her death. One would think that they would show some sort of restraint with such conduct, at least until her body was cold!
Still, I can’t bring myself to be excessively harsh; I loved this film! It is truly an imaginative retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde legend. I cannot for the life of me figure out why it had to settle for a direct-to-video release. In my opinion it would have been well received and far better suited to the big screen than some of the pathetic excuses for horror that we have been recently force-fed at the box-office.
4 1/2 out of 5
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