AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 110 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The introduction at the beginning of the movie:
Last year two grade A medical students Mary Glover and Henry ‘J’ Jekyll set out to illicitly create a new drug that would enhance and change their personalities. The story that you are about to see is based on the video diaries ‘J’ kept during his experiences…
Pound shops are good places for blind-buying DVDs because you haven’t lost much money if a film is rubbish, though there can be times when even a pound seems like too much for the turd you’ve just watched. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde has had countless adaptations and variants, and some are rubbish, but Jekyll + Hyde seemed like a reasonably decent version, updating the story and slightly changing the premise of a man who wants to release the evil in him so he’ll be pure and finding the evil becoming far stronger than he ever anticipated, to that of a man, or rather a man and a woman, who want to make themselves popular and successful but finding that it brings out evil. Simplistic maybe, but considering that the drug the people use in the film is a variant of a one that’s been prevalent for quite some time now, one could take it as a parable about and a warning against drug taking, ‘Hyde’ being the ‘high’ that a drug user chases and finds more and more addictive, though I wonder if it would have been better if the film’s drug wasn’t a variant on ecstacy, which is not actually a drug that’s addictive?
Quickly glancing at reviews on the IMDB seemed to suggest that the direct to DVD Jekyll + Hyde was awful and almost hit myself for buying another turkey, but I don’t know why I continue to be influenced by general opinion, because I often find myself disagreeing with it, and it turned out to be the case with Jekyll + Hyde. Now I’m not saying that it’s any kind of masterpiece, but it’s really quite an interesting and sometimes well crafted movie that assumes that the audience has some intelligence. It’s certainly highly flawed, its biggest problem perhaps being one of over-ambition which director Nick Stillwell and his co-writer David T. Reilly are not really talented enough to fully realise, though certain elements of the story do seem pretty stupid when you think about it, like a man being able to build up and maintain a complete drugs lab in a building that’s obviously under construction so workers would walk forever be walking in and out. The script could have done with a final workover to eliminate some ‘WTF’ aspects and, well, the guy playing the main character just doesn’t do his role[s] justice whatsoever, but all in all this movie isn’t that bad and doesn’t deserve the vitriol it seems to have got [less preferable to AIDS, really?], some of it by folk who either seem to have expected a closer adaptation of the story [admittedly the film doesn’t do itself any favours by naming some characters after ones in it] or a conventional horror movie.
So we have some students who theorise about the possibility of using recreational drugs to improving personalities. Two of their number decide to actually do this and put themselves forward as test subjects. Mary dies as the result of an overdose, the only clue to her death being a post-it note in her locker featuring a phone number and the name ‘Hyde‘, ‘Jekyll starts to unravel and begins taking regular doses of the chemically altered ecstasy, soon turning him from the mild mannered nerd that his friends know and love into a misogynistic womaniser with murderous tendencies. With little to no knowledge of his sinister alter-ego once the effects wear off except what seem like recollections of nightmares, he continues to increase the dose of the drug, while his best friend and girlfriend try to find out what’s going on with the reclusive Jekyll. Much of the story is told non-chronologically though, with the first images we see being actually part of the ending, and the next scene taking place about half way through the tale, with a man finding a girl with cuts all over her in his bath and trying to stop her screams being heard by the girl who is visiting him, eventually killing her. It sets up a strong feeling of dread, though quick shots of the girl from different angles as soon as the man sees her are irritating and actually weaken the horror of the moment.
The man of course is actually Jekyll, but we then flash back to two weeks earlier for a while before returning to the present a bit later. This convoluted way of telling the story is interesting but doesn’t entirely work, partly because the film fails to show us Jekyll’s first takings of the drug and his first transformations. We see Jekyll as a bullied nerd with an inferiority complex, then well into being dominated by the somewhat Dorian Gray-like ‘Hyde’ version of himself. Too many important things happen off-screen because the writers try to be too clever, and yet their approach is brave and deserves credit for trying to be a bit different. Two scenes where Hyde menaces people he’s tied up and tortured are genuinely nasty and are probably the reason the film has an ‘18’ certificate [that and maybe a sex scene on a morgue table], though much of Hyde’s beating, raping and killing occurs off-screen, possibly because of the budget, though the limited special effects, including loads of brains on tables, are perfectly fine. Not showing much of what Hyde gets up to would be fine if Hyde was played by an actor who could convey serious menace and give the impression that he commit horrible acts, but Bryan Fisher doesn’t achieve this, he’s just bland and dull throughout. Elsewhere the acting’s reasonable, the lovely Bree Turner being the highlight as Jekyll’s long-suffering girlfriend Martha.
Stillwell and Reilly’s script does do some things well like an unexpected killing off of a main character two thirds of the way through, though some of the dialogue is rather lame. As a director Stillwell does prove himself to be pretty good at lengthy suspense sequences when somebody is in danger, aided by cinematographer Phillip Robson who uses some colours well at certain moments. Stillwell also shows a penchant for odd, arty touches like repeated tracks towards a door behind which may exist something sinister, something partially blown when we’re shown what’s on the other side of the door before the door is actually opened. This is the problem that exists throughout much of this film: many things are intriguing and admirable but sometimes don’t quite work or are a little botched in the handling. When Jekyll finally realises what he’s been doing we’re given some really quick shots [again] of things he’s done which include shots of events we haven’t witnessed like a couple lying dead in their bed. Stillwell’s film does look far more expensive than it is, though that also means that certain scenes like a conversation in a pub done almost entirely in close-ups stick out when they show up the small budget. A sinister atmosphere is skilfully maintained throughout though and there’s also a real sense of sadness in places, usually when one of composer Patrick Doyle’s two main music themes are playing, and yes, this is Patrick Doyle the major Hollywood composer. God knows how he got involved in this film!
Never really being as good as it tries to be but certainly no disaster, Jekyll + Hyde [surely they could have come up with a better title though?] didn’t warrant the very small-scale release it got when it came out and does justify itself as an unusual take on the popular tale which has had lots of far worse screen versions [though of course none will any will ever match the superb 1931 version]. It’s definitely worth the £1 I spent on it, anyway.