Crimson Peak

“Crimson Peak” Misses the Mark

Crimson PeakCrimson Peak, the new film by visionary director Guillermo Del Toro, is a beautiful, disappointing mess. It is structured and paced like a B movie but is told like an A movie, only to be reduced back to B movie status in its ending revelations.

However, “beautiful” extends beyond the visuals in this film, which is what saves it from itself. Though the aesthetic make up a good 85 percent of the film’s success, it contributes to the heart of the film, which is about the aura of romance in haunted houses, the secrets of obsessive relationships and skeletons in the proverbial closet. Though the story is passionate and intensely felt, much of it is unconvincing, which is Crimson Peak’s main downfall.

The film foreshadows the threat to come when the ghost of Edith’s (Mia Wasikowska) dead mother tells her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Then, the film flashes forward 14 years, where Edith has grown up to become a writer, albeit a rejected one. Her father, played by Jim Beaver, is a well-groomed, rough-handed industrialist who perhaps tends to his beard a bit too carefully.

Edith doesn’t want to write love stories and isn’t interested in falling in love. Of course, there’s a suitor, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunman), who is intelligent, successful and, ultimately, emphatically bland. He is the sensible pick in these types of stories, and she does care for him, unlike us. Then, there’s the mysterious, lanky and sensitive Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Edith’s father dislikes him intensely, but Edith forms a mysterious attraction to him—at first by the pity of his plight, and then by what can only be explained as his Hiddleston-ness. He brings his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), in search of fortune to build his machine. Edith’s father rejects his request for funding, and goes a step further in blackmailing him when Edith and Tom begin to fall in love. He sends Tom and Lucille away.

But not before her father is killed under mysterious circumstances. From there, Thomas is Edith’s only vessel through which to live. She is whisked away to Allerdale Hall in England, where the house oozes red clay and the structures are falling apart. This is ultimately where the movie begins, as there are secrets to be uncovered, forbidden places to explore, and a chance for our heroine to say a piece of dialogue that goes along the lines of, “Something is not quite right here…”

I won’t spoil what happens, but the film is fairly predictable. In order to mine the enjoyment out of the film, audiences must not pay attention to the revelations themselves but focus instead on what leads up to it. It’s the type of movie we follow through with because it looks and sounds and feels so attractive and sumptuous.

This is a film that emphasizes the romance of knowing something is there lurking in the shadows. What lies underneath is a little more promising and thus a little more disappointing when we enter the final stages of the film, but are we not caught up in the melodrama anyway? Even when the surprises come one after the other, they’re passed over and treated with normalcy, not game changing importance.

The film’s main star is really the mise-en-scène. All else pales by comparison. The set design is mesmerizing. The walls bleed the clay Sir Thomas is trying to rake up, autumn and winter fall through a hole in the ceiling, and the grounds during a snowfall are all expressionistically rendered and undeniably beautiful. The overall look and feel of the film, the haunting blue and red shadows in Allerdale Hall and the open browns and mustard yellows in the American segments, are evocative and poetic. This film, more than anything, comes across as being painted with a brush, not shot with a camera.

Del Toro’s direction is also incredibly inspired. An ever-roving camera, object transitions, and iris wipes (when the screen encloses on a certain object in a shot, forming a circle, before fading to black) all give Crimson Peak the feel of a coverless book that you’d find in a library, the pages yellowing and the smell betraying a decades old age. Each segment is given a specific look and feel that hardly reflects either history or reality. It is reminiscent of things long remembered by some but forgotten by all the rest.

Chastain excels in her role as Lucille, but there is nothing much to say about the rest of the cast, which is competent to say the least. They fill their roles to their necessities without needing to exceed any expectations. Chastain, however, is spellbinding as usual. She alone steals the third act of the film from everyone else involved, Del Toro included.

Crimson Peak is not necessarily scary, nor does it aim to be. The characters, except for Lucille, are poorly drawn and cliché. The relationship between Thomas and Edith is thin and, in some unfortunate cases, the stuff of bad romance novels. The intrigue between the three of them is palpable, but phony in many aspects. However, the movie overall is very good, depending on the way you wish to watch it. I liked the old fashioned and purely cinematic way it achieved its intended effect. Del Toro is less interested in story and more interested in the world he creates. Things seem to grow organically from his vision, and to see and feel the world of this film through his eyes is the only reward we are going to get for sticking with him for the two hour running time. Whether you accept this or not will be the deciding factor of whether you will enjoy this movie.