Sunday, October 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Crimson Peak" (2015)

© Universal Pictures

Guillermo Del Toro's new film, Crimson Peak, is an intricate dalliance between Gothic horror and romance. Like Lemony Snicket meets The House of Yes, there is a spectacular style that feels dark and lived in, with a morbid air of sinister danger. As beautiful as it is, the movie is also wholly predictable. This is a ghost story that suffers from the injection of the love story within it. The result is a less-than-scary, almost boring mystery that may be the most visually stunning film of the year.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring horror writer and daughter of a wealthy building financier who is more than a little familiar with ghosts. On the day that her ghost story manuscript is turned away from being published for its 'lack of romance,' she meets the dashing Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Accompanied by his mysterious sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith is drawn to Thomas' passion and the attention he pays her, despite the obvious affections her childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), has for her. After a sudden tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and runs off to England to escape the ghosts of her past... but when she arrives at the dilapidated family mansion, she discovers that the spirits of Crimson Peak will not let her rest.

It was difficult to describe the basic plot of this film just then without giving the whole thing away. Mainly because it's not hard to figure out where the story is going to take you. The motivations of the characters are not subtle, so the decision to create conflicts between them can and will lead you to only one conclusion. For a movie that's trying to weave together a compelling mystery, this proves a bit of a problem. Our instinct as moviegoers is to put pieces together; when they fit together too easily, it's a recipe for sudden boredom.

The vision of the ghosts of mucky and unformed. The ghosts as characters are sadly underutilized, and even the ethereal hallucinations transforming into dripping, cracking manifestations (in another under-used performance by Del Toro favorite and prosthetics actor, Doug Jones) were over before they began. They were teases, nothing more, and the purpose they served in propelling the story forward is minimal, at best. As a result, the film loses any claim it had in calling itself a "ghost story." Because it clearly is not. It is sporadic in its gruesomeness, leaving us wanting more even if just to show us what's at stake.

Mia Wasikowska has a difficult time controlling her emotional shifts, a fact I've noted before in her past roles, but she does relatively well here. The stability—and rigidityof unemotional, Victorian constraints is a good foundation that serves her performance well. Where Mia might struggle at times to get a grip on her performance, particularly at the film's start, Jessica Chastain has masterful control of hers. Like Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers, no emotion slips through her hardened exterior without rich significance. She gives Lucille an eerily calm rage and pain that becomes the only mystery we're interested in solving. Hiddleston is a personal favorite of mine. He's charming, which suits this role well, with an untrustworthy glint in his eyes, which serves him even better. Sadly, the script reveals too much, too soon, and we're all left nodding our heads knowingly when the twists don't surprise us.

The way Del Toro attempts to counteract our ebbing boredom is through the utter brilliance of the artistic direction. This film is set dressed to within an inch of its life, and I fell into a sort of trance watching the pieces come together. The Sharpe home is spectacularly realized. The levels, the snow falling delicately through the roof, and even Edith's gowns as they drift through the hallways. It's rare to see a movie with so much texture. A shoe-in for Costuming and Artistic awards come Oscar time. It's enough of a distraction from the film's predictability that I would certainly have no qualms about watching it again, nor recommending it to anyone else. But be warned: this is not a horror film. It is a macabre romance with visuals to die for.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars

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