Halloween is only a few days away, and in the years past I would make an effort to watch and review as many horror films as possible. Life has a way of getting in the way of course, and now I’m lucky if I can get to see a small handful of scary movies.
One of those few films was Crimson Peak, directed by the great Guillermo Del Toro. I didn’t even think I’d get to see this movie in the theater, but an opportunity came up and I took it… the trailers for this film looked like it was a beautiful film with beautiful set pieces in the world of turn of the century England. This is a Victorian era ghost story, what more can you ask for?!
Crimson Peak follows the story of Edith, a young girl who was raised by her father, a wealthy businessman working in Buffalo, New York. Edith‘s mother died when she was just a small child, and (presumably) her mother visits her beyond the grave, and gives her a warning to avoid the Crimson Peak. Fast forward to Edith, now in her 20s, an aspiring writer who strives to get her ghost story published.
As this is the days long before Kickstarter; Thomas Sharp, a young and handsome English gentleman arrives (Tom Hiddleston) seeking funding for a strip mining excavator that he has invented. Edith’s father has an uneasy feeling about Thomas and his sister, Lucille who accompanies him on the trip. He hires a private investigator to dig up information about the Sharp’s in order to satiate the feeling he is having. Meanwhile, Thomas is getting closer to Edith, sweeping her off her feet.
After a tragic event, Edith marries Thomas and accompanies him back to England to live in this large, cold, mansion which is falling apart and beyond repair. This is where the fun begins, as Edith explores the house, she quickly learns the truth about Thomas and his sister.
There’s so much I’m leaving out, but I can’t spoil this movie for you as the reveals are all part of the fun of this movie. I say this is a fun movie, which is true… but the plot overall was very weak. Guillermo Del Toro is an excellent filmmaker, and he’s working in a genre that is not new to him… he started his career making horror films like The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos, (two movies I’ve unfortunately not seen, but I’ve heard they are really great films) so he knows horror. However, there was something about this movie that just fell flat. I enjoyed the movie, but I have a hard time getting past the weak plot… it’s as if the plot was only there to serve the visuals. The creation of Buffalo and England in the Victorian era was flawless, and the Sharp’s mansion fit the genre perfectly. During the films’ climax, the audience is taken from the dark monochromatic mansion, to the bright white (and also monochromatic) landscape in the middle of a snowstorm, which helps to add a level of spookiness to the final scene.
All of this eye candy made the film more appealing, but the one visual element of the film that didn’t work was the ghosts themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they were freaky as hell… but there was no consistency between the various ghosts. The translucent figures seen in these types of movies were more or less abandoned for a dark black or red spirit that is far from translucent. They looked more like a zombie covered in charcoal dust, with the ability to float (confused?). There was one ghost in the film that did follow the paradigm of past ghost stories, and it felt out of place because it was so different from all the other ghosts.
The other big complaint I had with the movie, was the casting of Jessica Chastain. She is a wonderful actress, and has the ability to pull off an outstanding (and award winning) performance, but sadly she was miscast for this role. I don’t believe it was because she was playing a British woman, or because her signature red hair was instead a dark dark black. I honestly don’t know what it was about her performance that was lacking, but she did not fit that role. Since her award winning performance in Zero Dark Thirty, it would seem that Jessica Chastain is in every single movie now, and with so many great actresses out there, it feels as though she was only cast because she’s a Golden Globe winner, and the current Hollywood “it” girl.
All that aside, Tom Hiddleston turned out a perfect performance as an English gentleman. His character becomes creepier and creepier as we learn more about him. Mia Wasikowska was also wonderful in this film, her character was powerful, determined and independent, and she played her character with that same gumption.
If you like ghost stories though, than this movie might scare the pants off you… the ghosts ARE pretty freaky, and got my heart jumping a little bit. So keep that in mind when deciding if you want to go see it.