Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim)
Director: Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Writers: Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express)
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Release Date: 16 October (US, UK)
Guillermo Del Toro has been away from his horror roots for the past few years, and Crimson Peak was advertised as a welcome return to the genre for the Mexican auteur. I love Del Toro’s more mainstream work like the Hellboy movies and Pacific Rim, but horror is his true passion and it comes through even in those films. However, Crimson Peak is not only much different to the film that was advertised but underwhelmingly so.
First things first: Crimson Peak isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a gothic romance story with some spooky elements, and not a particularly fresh one at that. After a brief chilling prologue, the whole first half of the film is basically just the burgeoning relationship between Edith (Wasikowska) and Thomas (Hiddleston) with nary a mention of the supernatural. Once we finally get to the haunted house, all the scary stuff starts to kick in but it still feels superfluous to the actual plot. Most of this part of the film is Edith engaging in Scooby-Doo antics of wandering around the house with a candle looking for clues, and then in the third act it turns into The Shining. The story unfolds in a very deliberate fashion, creating a great deal of anticipation as you wait for the movie to reveal its cards, but when it finally does there’s a compounding feeling of “is that it?” It really felt like the story was building up to something far bigger and imaginative, but in the end it’s rather mundane. It just really made me beg the question: why is there even a supernatural element? Seriously, you could write out all the ghosts in the movie and it would play out almost exactly the same. Why even waste time and money on all these ghost effects if they don’t actually have any impact on the plot? There’s nothing particularly wrong with the story; it flows well, there are some genuinely unnerving moments, and it all makes sense in the end. The problem is that this story could have been told far more simply, and all of its Del Toro embellishments feel like nothing more than that.
Mia Wasikowska has yet to impress me and Crimson Peak is no exception. She does a great job of looking scared, but for a woman whose supposedly trying to be independent in a man’s world she looks and sounds embarrassingly pathetic throughout the entire movie. I don’t wholly blame Wasikowska for her performance; I just think she’s been tremendously miscast. Tom Hiddleston, on the other hand, couldn’t be more perfectly fitted to his role. His character of Thomas Sharpe is an odd but fascinating fellow that you can never get full grips on. One minute he can be a charming romantic, the next a desperate businessman, then a wounded puppy. He’s a very hard man to read, and that makes him far more eerie a character. I wish Jessica Chastain took some notes from him, because she’s completely lacking in subtlety. From the moment she appears on screen, it’s obvious that Chastain’s Lucille is bad news and the nature of her relationship with Hiddleston is blindingly obvious. Chastain does do a good job of being believably crazy, but if she had held back in the first half it would have had much more impact. Charlie Hunnam’s role feels somewhat useless given that by the time he shows up to unload some shocking exposition Edith has already learnt most of it, and his unrequited relationship with her feels really tacked on.
What mainly saves Crimson Peak from being mediocre is that fact that it is gorgeous. Del Toro is a master when it comes to creating a visual style for his movies, and the production design here could easily be the best he’s had. Allerdale Hall itself is a gothic wonderland filled with incredible amounts of detail, and the fact that the entire set was achieved practically is a marvel in and of itself; full marks to Thomas Sanders for his work here. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is also eerily beautiful, very reminiscent of his underappreciated work on Silent Hill (I think it’s the ever-present fog in both movies), capturing both scope and fear to create some impressive images. Fernando Velasquez’s score is chillingly sombre, and the sound design is also frighteningly excellent. However, disappointingly the creature work is lacking in the fact that there isn’t any. Del Toro has always made great use of practical effects in his movies, but here all the ghost effects are done entirely with CGI. The designs themselves are uniquely Del Toro and suitably gross, but the effects work itself looks a little undercooked and I wonder if it would have worked better if done in camera with some CG elaboration.
Crimson Peak is the cinematic equivalent of being overdressed for a party. It’s showed up with all these fancy bells and whistles that it doesn’t need and stretches to make them seem useful. Guillermo Del Toro’s direction on a technical level is impeccable as always, but I feel he could have held back on the grandiose and made this a simpler movie. The story actually feels hampered by the supernatural elements, which only end up making the actual plot seem far less impressive in comparison. It’s worth watching for Hiddleston’s performance and the pure spectacle of it, especially if you’re a Del Toro fan, but otherwise there’s not much to write home about. Now, Del Toro, do whatever you can to save Pacific Rim 2. I don’t want to see it go the way of the other six-bazillion projects you announced and then quietly abandoned.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10