Beware of Crimson Peak…
My friend Jason used to joke that he wanted to make a movie that was a total bait-and-switch from trailer to actual film. His example was to make a movie about a boy recovering from injuries received in a hit-and-run, but focus the trailer solely on the events leading up to the accident. Those events would feature a drug dealer living the criminal high life, eventually hitting the kid while he drove drunk/ high. The action shown in the trailer would all happen within the first ten minutes of the film. I bring this up because Guillermo del Toro (along with co-writer Matthew Robbins) has done pretty much the exact same thing with Crimson Peak, but instead of a low-life drug dealer he uses ghosts.
Let me start by saying that Crimson Peak is not really a bad movie per se and, for what it’s worth, it’s probably my favorite film of del Toro’s. I do need to point out, however, that I am not by nature a fan of his work. The man’s cinematic style generally irks me and I am not a supporter of what he did to Hellboy (being a huge fan of the comics), so I am probably not the target audience for this movie. Though I do like ghost stories and was looking forward to seeing what he might have up his sleeve. Turns out, it isn’t ghosts.
I guess Crimson Peak would be best described as a gothic mystery/thriller. In the late 1800’s/early 1900’s (an exact date isn’t given), Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author of ghost stories. Her father, Carter (Jim Beaver), is a wealthy businessman. In a flashback at the start of the movie, we find out that Edith’s mother died when Edith was a young girl. Young Edith (Sofia Wells) is visited by her mother’s ghost (Doug Jones) who gives the cryptic message, “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
Returning to the film’s present, Edith meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), whom she develops feelings for. Sharpe is in America attempting to get funding from Carter for a piece of clay-mining equipment he is trying to develop. Carter doesn’t like Sir Thomas or his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), and pays the pair off after finding out some dirt on them. This eventually leads to Carter’s death and Edith’s marriage to Sir Thomas, as well as a move to England to live in the Sharpe estate.
It’s when the film gets to England that the audience, or at least my wife and I, expected the horror elements to come out… but they never really do. There is a creepy, decrepit house and there are ghosts, if you want to call them that, but they are by no means scary and their appearances are so few and far between that I don’t think you can even classify the flick as a ghost story. It’s more like a Hammer horror film if Merchant and Ivory produced it, and there was no horror involved.
One of my main gripes with del Toro, outside of the general nature of his films, are his creatures. His effects designs are totally unappealing to me and the creatures in Crimson Peak are no different. The “ghosts” alternate between uninteresting, sloppy, and outright goofy. For the most part they are just partially translucent black goop (think a more solid smoke monster from LOST), but when they do take shape they are by no means frightening or unnerving. By the end they are bordering on Haunted Mansion type effects.
The performances are good for the most part, with Wasikowska and Chastain being the stand-outs. Jim Beaver and Charlie Hunnam are both good in limited roles. Hiddleston does well with what he has to work with, but it is within his character that the main flaw in the movie lies. It seems that the audience is supposed to feel certain things for Sharpe by the end of the film, but the story really doesn’t give us much of a reason for this.
Despite its flaws, I wouldn’t try to stop someone from watching Crimson Peak. Just know what you’re getting into before you put your money and time toward it. It’s well made and has some really cool scenes, yet it never really came together as a whole for me. It tries to do a lot, and sometimes it hits mark, but just as often it doesn’t. Guillermo del Toro will eventually make a film that I will be able to get behind fully; Crimson Peak is not it, though it is the closest he has come so far.
Until next time…