Crimson Peak is going to divide audiences. The advertising campaign is definitely selling, while not quite a different movie, something a little more comfortably defined as horror, when the film is actually a very old-fashioned ghost story.
This is a violent gothic romance with some ghosts, secrets, bodice ripping, and face smashing. Anyone expecting something along the lines of a period version of The Shining or Insidious will not only be disappointed, they'll unfairly judge a film on a marketing campaign the filmmakers had no control over.
Crimson Peak is the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an American writer, who meets the handsome and somewhat dashing British aristocrat, Thomas Sharpe (played by the dashing and handsome Tom Hiddleston). After falling in love almost instantly, Edith moves to Allerdale Hall in England to live with Thomas and his cold and removed older sister Lucille (a wonderful Jessica Chastain). To tell much more of the story would be unfair, although the trailers for this film have once again done it a disservice by showing way too much of the third act.
Wasikowska can be an excellent actress as she has proven in the underrated HBO show "In Treatment" and the criminally under-seen masterpiece Stoker, but her character here is overshadowed by the Sharpe siblings almost completely. Chastain and Hiddleston lounge around in their dialogue so completely, that it is hard to empathize with Wasikowska, who is saddled playing a Mary Sue archetype.
All of the complicated backstory, the dark deviousness, and disturbing behavior are supplied by The Sharpes, whose performances (along with the always excellent Jim Beaver as Edith's father, Carter Cushing) are what make the film much better than it would have been.
The real star, however, is Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe family home. The multi-story set is breathtaking in all its rotting and sumptuous glory. There is a hole in the roof right in the entryway, so there are always leaves, snow, and other detritus slowly falling to the floor in the bloated and close-to-ruined mansion. Even though the film isn't scary (just gruesome) and does not create much tension, Guillermo del Toro's always exquisite direction makes Allerdale Hall feel like a real location with all the baroque tonality that it brings.
The main problem with the film (aside from Edith's Mary Sue-ish nature) is the script, which fails to lock down what is really the most important aspect of the picture: the romance between Edith and Thomas. Their romance is one of those movie contrivances where they have love at first sight, not because of character, dialogue, or proper storytelling, but because the script needs them to. Wasikowska and Hiddleston just don't have the chemistry to sell us on a Jack and Rose, eternal love-type relationship. If people are just there for the ghosts and violence, it might not be bothersome, but much of the final act of the film hinges on the audience believing in the strength of their connection and it just isn't there. It's in the text, but not in what was filmed.
Overall, Crimson Peak is a leisurely-paced gothic, romantic ghost story with a very simple plot designed only to allow del Toro to sate his inner Mary Shelley. The lack of tension and scares make for a bizarre filmgoing experience, since the design of the ghosts are original and excellent. In fact, it's probably the most beautifully designed "horror" film ever made, and while it didn't need to be scary, it did need to build enough tension to sell the thrills of the final act. At least more than the trailer did.
Director Guillermo del Toro
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