Crimson Peak **

It’s not scary, and the story leaves a lot to be desired. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Early in “Crimson Peak,” a gothic horror pic from writer/director Guillermo Del Toro (“Hellboy”), a little girl is warned by a ghost to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Ten years later, the same ghost appears to the girl, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), to remind her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Not sure about you, but if I were the girl there’s no way you’d get me around anything crimson or a peak, ever.

And yet, Edith does not take caution. Completely ignores the warning, really. You’d think she wouldn’t marry someone who operates a red clay mining company, let alone live with him in a creepy mansion where the red clay is mined, but that would make sense. And little of “Crimson Peak” makes sense.

It’s the early 1900s, and Edith lives in upstate New York with her industrialist father (Jim Beaver). Siblings Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille (Jessica Chastain) come to town seeking financing for their family-held mining company. After a serious of tedious scenes that run far too long, and subplots of social tension that mean nothing, we’re left with this: Although a local doctor (Charlie Hunnam) is in love with her, Edith decides to marry Thomas (who to be honest did a much better job of sweeping her off her feet). They move to Thomas’ family estate in England, which is cold, drafty and dreadful. There’s little light, forbidden rooms, ghosts everywhere and a gaping hole in the roof. But worse than all that: Lucille lives with them. Why a newlywed couple would want a nagging sister around is inconceivable, but it’s clear that Thomas and Lucille have ulterior motivations.  

The fact that these motivations – and other secrets – take too long to be revealed is one issue among many. The violence isn’t excessive but it is graphic, meaning the film earns its R rating even though it probably should’ve been toned down for a PG-13. The ghost story is underdeveloped (and not scary), the love story isn’t believable, and the resolution isn’t satisfying. Narratively the plot fails to generate interest, which is a disappointment given the lavish production values.

Indeed, the film looks slick and gothic and vivid. The production design has an aged authenticity that feels era-appropriate, and the costumes suggestively reflect the innocent or sinister motivations of their inhabitants. There’s also artistry in the cinematography: Note the scene in which Thomas and Lucille reveal that they’re scheming against Edith while standing in a park. Thomas and Lucille are in the foreground enshrouded in shadow, symbolizing a darkness to their actions. Meanwhile, Edith is in the background basking in sunlight, ignorant of the nefarious plot that awaits her. This is smart filmmaking in that the viewer subconsciously registers these elements and becomes more invested in the characters.

Too bad “Crimson Peak” didn’t have more of this craftsmanship. For as appealing as it looks, the story doesn’t do it justice and without a better story the visual pleasures ultimately fall flat. Find something else to watch this Halloween season.

Did you know?
Thomas and Lucille’s house was built from scratch at Pinewood Studios in Toronto. 

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