“Ghosts are real. This much I know.”
I’ve put a lot of thought into this movie, because frankly, with a director I greatly admire making a film in a genre which he adores, I wanted to be certain that my conclusions were only influenced by the finished product. So I must say, with regret, that Crimson Peak is one bloody bad time at the movies. Some of that could be attributed to the dreadful marketing campaign. Release a movie with ghosts in mid October and mismarket it as a horror film and you’re bound to get mixed results. And I have no doubt that Guillermo del Toro, an innovative director, accomplished exactly what he set out to achieve – a gothic romance. Scares are as out of sight as a phantom. But his passion for this particular kind of story doesn’t inspire the same infatuation from the viewer, leaving us in the blind, using all the right parts with poor configuration. Crimson Peak feels like a bad math proof. Del Toro knows the answer; he just doesn’t show any of the work.
He does, however, continue to lead current filmmakers with some of the most lavishly extravagant costuming and production design. Clearly the man is meticulous about every detail and the staging and the authenticity. Like them or not, del Toro’s fantastical movies somehow feel real without fail. In the world of Crimson Peak they are beautiful pieces with little intrigue. If these uninviting walls could talk you wouldn’t care to listen, and that’s not a good thing for a movie so reliant on its heavy design versus its light characters to draw us in. Now, to be fair to del Toro, I know next to nothing about gothic romances. Maybe the people are supposed to take a backseat. Perhaps the dialogue is meant to be incredibly stiff and foreseeable. For all I know he could simply be playing by the laws of the land. Look at his filmography, or even his Twitter account, and you’ll realize he knows what he’s doing (if you’re a film fan or just into art he’s a great follow). I can’t say with certainty because I’m just not informed enough. Regardless, when compared to the rest of his work, del Toro inexplicably loses us in translation.
Crimson Peak’s frantic loose ends don’t create curiosity; they evoke absent-mindedness. Long story short, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a pseudonym using writer, is pursued by sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). He wants her hand, she obliges following her father’s mysterious death, and Thomas literally sweeps her off of her feet before entering the creaking walls and deteriorating levels of Allerdale Hall. Thomas lives in the vast, decrepit quarters with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), forthright in her feelings towards Edith and secretive in the history of the home. Crimson Peak tries to build itself off of Dickensian cliffhangers, but they only reduce it to rubble, leaving us on our feet looking over the divide rather than holding on for dear life by our fingertips. It’s a technical marvel – easy to admire – and just as guilty of being so on the nose that we see the twist with crossed eyes. No consequences, little nutritional value, fat to chew on. Only the stumbling late-night love drunks will be able to consume it, and then again, they probably won’t recall doing so.
By no mistake does the poster name drop del Toro’s best film Pan’s Labyrinth. Should he interest you, I may as well suggest Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, two of his earliest works and both standalone pieces of brilliance. Pan’s Labyrinth is different though, purposefully political while just as socially influenced, and his second film centering around the impact of the Spanish Civil War. Simply put, the movie has meaning. That’s why I’m left so disappointed by del Toro’s latest film. Crimson Peak may be a metaphor, as are the ghosts in the film and the story itself, but the movie passively stands back when asked to make a declaration on what the metaphor stands for. Here is a story that is incomplete, tangential, unfocused, and although not derivative, never wholly original either. Surface level beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but real lasting beauty is found in the mind, and in that regard Crimson Peak’s imprint is a mere footprint in a snowstorm.
“When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak.”
Rating: 2 out of 5