From Hell

"At least he got the address right," one character comments when reading a letter, allegedly from Jack The Ripper, signed "from hell." Even if the setting weren't plagued by a serial killer, the sentiment would seem accurate; in adapting Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's mammoth graphic novel, Albert and Allen Hughes present a version of late-Victorian East End London that could easily stand in for the recesses of the damned. Grime doesn't so much settle as become absorbed into the atmosphere, while danger seems to generate spontaneously from the gutter mud. It's enough to make the Watts of the Hughes' Menace II Society look preferable by comparison. Like that other urban hellscape, From Hell's London slum is also generally neglected or ignored by the police, but when prostitutes start turning up with their throats slit and their organs removed, the problem becomes too big to ignore. Enter Johnny Depp, an eccentric, sad-eyed investigator prone to drug use and, perhaps not coincidentally, psychic visions. Taking on the case, he befriends a streetwalker (Heather Graham, sporting the nicest teeth in Whitechapel) whose friends comprise an inordinate number of the victims; eventually, he begins to suspect that the slayings might not be as random as they first appear. Moore and Campbell's original work was a peculiar but effective mix of detective work, conspiracy theorizing, mystical geography, and historical dot-connecting that sprawled across hundreds of pages. It inevitably needed streamlining to be turned into a film. In some respects, the Hughes brothers and screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias deserve praise for their adaptation, which captures the feel of unrelenting grimness and the sense that the Ripper slayings were only the latest of many bad things to happen to London's poorest. Sadly, they lost as much as they kept. Where the graphic novel wrapped a fairly silly anti-royalist, anti-Freemason screed in layers of detail both pertinent and ornamental, the film's questionable conclusions come less shielded by fascinating Victoriana. Ultimately, it feels like a grisly, if stylish, costume-dress whodunit/slasher film. Even on those terms, it's not energetic or perplexing enough to satisfy, proving the satanic paradox that even hell can be dull.

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