Full disclosure here, gothic horror is not my bag generally speaking. I once knew a girl who insisted we sit around watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula at least three nights a week and by the end of that summer I wanted to dig up Stoker’s corpse, slap him awake and then slap him back to death for birthing the story. So, when the opportunity to check out Crimson Peak presented itself my first instinct was to give the film a hard pass. At the same time, I do like to challenge myself. And this is a Guillermo Del Toro film. Surely Del Toro has earned the benefit of the doubt at least enough to cause me to reconsider the genre. Finally, my reversal of fortune was sealed when I took a look at the cast. If you’ve been paying attention at all around here, you know I’m kind of all in for Jessica Chastain… and Tom Hiddleston. Loki?! You bet I’m a go for that. Finally, Mia Wasikowska is quietly turning into my favorite Hollywood weirdo. Did you even see Stroker? Come on! Crimson Peak seemed poised to turn my Gothic Horror frown upside down. But did it?
In Crimson Peak, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, aspiring fiction writer and the daughter of a wealthy businessman in late 1800s America. Her life takes a dramatic turn upon meeting Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), an eccentric European visionary with dreams of elaborate red clay mining operations that will revitalize his family name and home. In order to see his dreams realized, he needs Edith’s father, Carter, to loan him enough capital to build his fantastical mining machine. When Thomas is rebuked he turns his sights on Edith, sweeping her off of her feet, presumably in order to further his cause. Through tragic circumstance, Edith marries Thomas and he whisks her and her fortune across the sea to the family mansion, Crimson Peak, to live with him and his creepy sister Lucille (Chastain). Alone in the dilapidated Sharpe family home, Edith begins to uncover a macabre mystery that will threaten her sanity as well as her life. To say much more about the film would probably be giving away too much. Honestly though, if you can’t figure out everything that’s going on in Crimson Peak and you can’t see every twist coming from a mile away, then please allow me to welcome you to movies. Where have you been? None of the characters do a particularly good job of hiding their motivations, which all leads you to wonder “If the main character is this easily duped, why the hell should I care about her?” I’m not one to yell at characters on the screen, but my inner dialog was screaming. At least until I realized I wasn’t really that compelled by any of it.
The good news is that this is Guilermo Del Toro, so even if the story is not exactly oozing originality, the action on the screen is typically nice to look at. Not many filmmakers can make dark and brooding so beautiful. Obviously, period pieces like this lend themselves to gorgeous costuming, and no one mixes opulence and despair so well. Crimson Peak sells itself as a ghost story, and while I had a hard time figuring out why the ghosts were even necessary, they are some of the best damn ghosts you’ll ever see. Unfortunately, there’s maybe a little too much of a good thing there, there is hardly a scene to pass that there isn’t a ghost just kind of hanging around in the background ghosting it up for the camera. By the end of the film I was so un-phased by ghosts that it hardly would have registered a nod to catch a glimpse of one in my rearview on the way home afterwards.
The acting is a mixed bag as well. Hiddleston is the highlight. The man commands a room and, while it’s difficult to see him on the big screen without calling his Avengers persona to mind, if his performance here is any indication he should do just fine outside the Marvel Universe. Wasikowska delivers an excellent performance as a naïve young woman forced into action after coming to grips with the horror unfolding around her. That description actually encapsulates every role of hers I’ve witnessed thus far, though, so make of that what you will. Chastain’s turn as Lucille is probably one of the biggest problems for me with this film. There is little to no ambiguity in her portrayal. Her actions speak clearly from the get go and remove nearly all of the mystery from a movie that is really meant to be a romantic mystery rather than a gothic horror film, and that’s too bad. I’m not sure it’s Chastain’s fault, as she commits admirably to the role, but the material could have served her better. Also, Charlie Hunnam is in this movie.
I had higher than anticipated hopes for Crimson Peak, but it delivered closer to where I probably should have expected. If you fawn over this type of film, you’ll no doubt be happy to add this one to your collection. If this sort of thing is not something you usually seek out, the predictable storytelling and languid pace will probably have you looking at your watch during the final act wondering how you’ve only been in the theater for about an hour and 45 minutes when it feels like much more.
|Crimson Peak (2015)|
|Director:||Guillermo Del Toro|
|Release Date:||October 16th 2015|