Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is both a gothic romance and a ghost story that finds the director and his team of visual wizards absolutely crushing the production design of the late 19th century era we find ourselves in. I love movies set in this time period. I adore the Victorian look and the giant sets that pay close attention to detail. I especially dig it when horror is injected into this world. It seems to just fit. Think From Hell or Sleepy Hollow and The Wolfman remake and so on and so forth.
The issue with Crimson Peak is while my eyeballs were more than satisfied – the gothic romance occurring here isn’t terribly interesting and the ghost stuff isn’t too scary. We have intermittent outbursts of gory happenings that sometimes jolt us, but they’re found late in the proceedings. This is after I’d determined that there’s more to meet the eye than the substance of what’s filling the sumptuous sets.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing of Buffalo, New York, daughter of an aristocratic businessman (Jim Beaver) and aspiring writer of ghoulish tales. She’s got a bit of experience with her musings as she’s been visited by the CG rendering of her late mother. Ghost Mom has one key message to impart – “beware of Crimson Peak”. Edith’s path soon crosses with Englishman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who’s trying to hawk an invention to her father. He’s not buying what Sharpe is selling, but Edith is quite taken with him.
A confluence of circumstances – some of which involves a bit of ultra violence – sends Edith with Thomas to his family home in England. Thomas’s creepy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) makes up the rest of the trio at Allerdale Hall, the run down manor that is the aforementioned triumph of the designers behind it. This massive and beautifully rendered estate has another name. I’ll give you a guess.
The screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins doesn’t exactly keep you guessing as to story developments and we see many coming from a mile away. What did surprise me is how flat a number of the performances are from Wasikowska to Hiddleston (he has moments, but that Loki charm is buried for long stretches) to Charlie Hunnam in the thankless role of Edith’s lifelong friend whose romantic interest in her is not reciprocated. Chastain is a terrific actress and she’s about the only one who sometimes rises above the material in a part that reminded me of Mrs. Danvers from Hitchock’s Rebecca.
Yet I could never shake the feeling that Peak just isn’t as frightening as it should be. Then there’s the feeling that the pic is centered on this connection between Edith and Sharpe and it’s a connection we don’t really feel. All that said, the look of it all is damn near enough to give it a bloody recommendation but not quite.
**1/2 (out of four)