This is a gorgeous looking film that is faulty in nearly every other area, especially with its meandering storytelling. Crimson Peak is an odd period piece horror film that teases us with grotesque ghosts on occasion, which seem to have made it into the film not because it is in sync with the rest of the story but because Guillermo del Toro, the director, couldn’t bear to do the movie without them. The ghosts, with sickly faces and drooling body parts, are slavishly designed. The heroine (Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing), who has been seeing these ghosts since childhood, is one of those unconventional thinking woman types for her time who wishes to be a novelist not unlike Mary Shelley. A mysterious man (Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe) enters Edith’s life to win her heart and whisk her away from her protective capitalist father. Thomas’ envious sister (Jessica Chastain as Lucille) seems to hate every fiber of Edith’s body.
These people talk like they belong with this nineteenth century time. Despite that, the storytelling gets very creaky by the second half. Thomas transports Edith from America to a gothic mansion in England where everything is, well, windblown. Tension is mounted between Edith and Lucille, there are those ghost sightings, some alludes to the Hitchcock movie “Rebecca” (1940) in where the new husband is not the man our fine heroine thought he was, some spooky tanks of red water, some business with a technological breakthrough surrounding a caterpillar bulldozer to dig red soil from the ground efficiently, and… ghosts, ghosts, ghosts! But no kidding, the ghosts turn out to be nothing but red herrings! And other parts, including the bulldozer is just there for ambiance that is more arbitrary than desired.
“Crimson Peak,” even as unapologetic melodrama, tried my patience because it doesn’t seem to mean anything. The plot offers a whodunit with a surprise murderer, but the fact that the movie thinks that it’s any kind of surprise in the first place is a little cuckoo.
Still, there are some young audiences new to the world of movies that might be very impressed by the vivid gothic style of the film, and by the fact that del Toro is a wizard with the camera and an artist in how he plays with color lighting (the opening ghost scene is an isolated work of genius in how blue and yellow light is imbued). I sat there, however, wondering if del Toro was doing something with the ghosts that would be some kind of ingenious play variation on “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), and what he was planning to do with it. I was disenchanted to learn that, this time, his vision is simply half-baked.
119 Minutes. Rated R.
HORROR / GOTHIC CINEMA / SATURDAY NIGHT HEAD-SCRATCHER
Film Cousins: “Rebecca” (1940); “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001, Spain); “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006, Spain); “Mama” (2013).