Sunday, October 25, 2015


Director Guillermo del Toro has dabbled in many genres of film in his career; horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and comic books…sometimes one at a time and sometimes all at once. His newest original tale, CRIMSON PEAK, is a return to his roots as a horror director, while throwing in something new…

After the mysterious death of her father, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a struggling writer who once saw a ghost as a child, falls in love with and marries struggling inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who takes her to England to live with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) at their ancient family mansion. Once there, Edith is visited by spooks and specters, while her father’s former doctor (Charlie Hunnam) becomes suspicious and investigates…

Early in the film, Edith’s character describes the story she’s writing as a love story which just happens to have ghosts in it. It is an on-the-nose description which Guillermo del Toro uses to tell the audience exactly what kind of film we’re in for. While there are plenty of scares inside of a creepy atmosphere peppered with some startling imagery, CRIMSON PEAK plays out like a feature-length soap opera more than a ghost story. The plot is thick with twists and turns involving family estates, histories, troubled childhoods, and a thousand secrets buried in the walls of the creepy and bleeding mansion. It is a melodrama to be sure, which just happens to have a few drop-ins by ghosts.

Despite not fully committing to being a ghost story, CRIMSON PEAK, even after all of its effective story-building and slow unraveling of mysteries, winds up falling back to the mistake that many horror films tend to take; all the intrigue gets let out of the room when the final act just turns into a knife-wielding psycho chasing the helpless around the room. Worse, the final mystery is a bit of a ho-hum, been-there, seen-that type of reveal. The final solution to it all is telegraphed very early, and when Edith discovers all of the grisly secrets, it isn’t very much of a gut-punch because the audience will have likely already figured it out long before.

There is still a ton to enjoy in CRIMSON PEAK. The real star of the show is the mansion itself, which is a marvel to look at and is a throwback to the old days of filmmaking. Spooky and gothic and wonderfully explored by del Toro’s camera, it is a true wonder to be seen. Del Toro makes great use of color, offering some eye-popping visuals with great contrast. The ghosts, which are all CGI, are effective only for as long as they’re concealed in shadow, and lose much of their creep-factor once they enter the light.

Acting is excellent all around. Mia Wasikowska does the most work as a troubled young woman trying to find her way, and it is the most emotionally-charged performance of her early career. Tom Hiddleston is a charmer as always, and Jessica Chastain nearly steals the show as the slightly un-hinged older sister with a lot of demons to hide. Charlie Hunnam is OK but doesn’t do anything remarkable.

By the time the predicable finale rolls around, the realization sets in that the goddamn ghosts in the movie really don’t play much of a part in the overall story other than to provide a few scares. If they were eliminated from the screenplay it wouldn’t have made much of a difference for better or for worse. In the end, CRIMSON PEAK is a very confused film, with one foot in horror and the other in soap-opera land…all while displaying one the most beautiful looking movies ever made. There is no real rush to climb this peak.


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