Guillermo del Toro is one of those filmmakers who burst onto the scene awhile ago with a string of instant classics “Cronos” and “The Devil’s Backbone” only to later hit a new critical high with “Pan’s Labyrinth.” With the announcement of a gothic horror called “Crimson Peak”, there was an excitement for the director to return to horror after some science fiction dalliances.
Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a young woman haunted by the memory/ghost of her deceased mother. One night, she warns him to ‘Beware Crimson Peak’. Coming to America all the way from England is Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) is an inventor seeking funding from Edith’s father. Thomas also has his creepy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in towe. Of course Edith is intrigued by this dashing stranger. Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) has long loved Edith and disapprovingly lurks in the background. As Edith and Thomas become more emotionally attached, his desire to take her back with him to his home at Crimson Peak might be too tempting to refuse.
For a story as densely-packed with ghosts as this is, they aren’t really that consequential. More than anything, they prove to be warnings, cheap attempts at scares and distractions. A telling line early in the film is that Edit has written a story that has ghosts, but is not a ghost story. Keep that in mind.
From a production design and visual standpoint, this is absolutely fantastic. The ghosts are a little lame (basically, transparent, skinless people, sometimes wearing cloaks) but the house, the land and the clay-soaked snow are memorable. It is one of the better settings in horror movies in recent memory. Unfortunately, none of this really adds up to anything that is truly scary. The potential is absolutely there but the payoff isn’t.
The direction that this is all leading is blatantly obvious right from the start. The story shows its hand too early as we know character motivations (maybe not all of the details, but enough) and we are left impatiently waiting for Edith to piece things together. When everyone is up to speed by the third act, that is when things truly propel forward though even then, there aren’t many huge surprises. Aside from what we are presented with premise-wise and the characters all figuring it out, there is very little to this story. Simplicity is fine, but there should be some major surprises for the audiences to discover.
Without spoiling anything, certain characters are forced (by the script) to overplay things and to really overact, clumsily driving home the point of their ill intentions. Hiddleston and Wasikowska don’t really have much chemistry. Then again, she doesn’t really seem to have much chemistry with Hunnam either. Only Hiddleston and Chastain truly seem to click. A very central character is completely ineffectual in terms of the actual plot. This person does little except to do the equivalent of reminding others of Edith’s presence at Crimson Peak. A stronger script would have smoothed over some of these narrative bumps.
Special features include: deleted scenes, “The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak”, “Beware of Crimson Peak”, and commentary.
‘Crimson Peak’ isn’t bad, and has some real virtues, but it is a clear case of style over substance. This is definitely a rental or stream only. Based on the thin plot and acting and much of the usual film criteria, this would normally be a two star review but because of the visual goodies and obvious skill that went into this, let’s do a little better.
Add an extra half star to this rating.
Rated R 119 minutes 2016