If there’s one person in Hollywood who knows how to weave a fantasy movie, it’s Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican writer/director has gained critical praise and a passionate following for making movies with dark atmosphere but great imagination, whether it’s the adventures of a big red demon (Hellboy), an imaginative young girl (Pan’s Labyrinth) or giant fighting robots (Pacific Rim). With his attention to detail and expansive creativity, one would think it’d be a walk in the park for del Toro to make a ghost story. That’s what makes his latest feature, Crimson Peak, all the more interesting and disappointing at the same time.
Del Toro sets Crimson Peak in Buffalo, NY at the turn of the 20th century, where Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is living with her wealthy father (Jim Beaver) and trying to publish a fictional love/ghost story. She catches the eye of British entrepreneur Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who woos Edith enough to wed and wish her away to Allerdale Hall, his family mansion in England. Allerdale is crumbling, cold and seeping with the red clay Thomas mines underground. There’s also Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who creeps around the mansion unsure of Edith’s presence. On top of all that, Edith starts hearing voices and seeing spirits at night (including her mother’s) warning her that her new home is hiding something terrifying.
The term del Toro has used to describe Crimson Peak is “gothic romance,” like Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 interpretation of Dracula. It makes sense since both movies look incredible but are also incredibly boring. Despite being just under two hours, Crimson Peak can at times feel very rushed but also drag out.
The editing of the movie is very distracting, what with conversations cutting back and forth from person to person so quickly and audible lines that are clearly overdubbed over something else said by the actors. It’s not vertigo-inducing on the level of say, a Michael Bay movie, but it’s still annoying when these scenes should be treated with more grace and patience.
What makes the movie drag is how there is no dramatic emphasis on moments when there clearly should be. The critical “shocking” moments of the movie are in plain sight, but there’s little to no big buildup to these moments and the scenes occur as quick as they pass by. Even the really big “twist” of the movie is given such little emphasis to impact the audience.
The story is also very predictable, so much so that I saw the big “twist” coming the second Lucille stepped on-screen. On top of that, there’s really no reason this needs to be a ghost story. The supernatural elements in the movie are so rare and mostly pointless that it feels like two different stories butting heads. Both are interesting, but del Toro can’t get them to gel into one.
Fortunately, as stated before, Crimson Peak looks gorgeous. The production design of Allerdale Hall is incredible, with the breaking infrastructure and walls oozing with red clay make for a spooky-looking haunted house. Even the design of the ghosts Edith sees are both grotesque to see up close and yet impressive to look at. The end of the movie, where the mansion’s outside is covered in the red clay and snow from an occurring-blizzard, makes it look like a Victorian-era England version of The Shining.
Del Toro also picks good talent for his characters, especially in Jessica Chastain. She’s gorgeous but haunting as she glides around scenes trying to spook Mia Wasikowska’s frail Edith. If it weren’t for Tom Hiddleston’s usual charm and tragic sex appeal that’s won the hearts of Tumblr users, Chastain would’ve walked off with the whole movie. If Hollywood needs a sexy seductress with a screw loose in a picture, they should keep Chastain on speed dial.
Ultimately, Crimson Peak is a big disappointment because there’s great potential within it. If del Toro had just made a horror movie or a dark romance, it may have worked much better. Instead we get del Toro’s jumbled concepts from what might’ve been that canceled Silent Hills game he was working on. There have been much worse movies to come out this year, but Crimson Peak may be the most disappointing movie of 2015.