Now Playing: beware of watching Crimson Peak

Nick Blank

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Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror flick Crimson Peak is a visual marvel, and the rest is spectacularly average.

Perhaps it was my sheer appreciation of Guillermo del Toro’s work that made Crimson Peak disappointing. The Gothic horror subgenre seemed to match up so well with del Toro’s specialties, but Crimson Peak isn’t in the upper echelon of del Toro films like the heartfelt Spanish Civil War-set The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth. But I can appreciate it like I did Mimic, Hellboy or Pacific Rim. Del Toro’s newest venture belongs among the second bunch of films with plenty of visual appeal, but bogged with weak plots and characters.

Mia Wasikowska plays an aspiring novelist named Edith, the daughter of a widowed New York aristocrat. She meets charming British industrialist Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his brooding sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Initially reluctant, Edith is won over in an excruciatingly-long waltz scene, and Sharpe whisks her away to Northern England.

Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

Twice — once as a little girl and again when Sharpe shows up to her house unannounced — a ghost of her mother warns her, “beware of Crimson Peak.” Although she is shocked to the bone, Edith has no idea what this means until she moves into Allerdale Hall, Sharpe’s ominous gothic manor where the red clay dyes the snow a deep scarlet, hence the Crimson Peak title. Charlie Hunnam plays a friend-zoned doctor who knows something’s wrong.

Crimson Peak is mired with jump scares. Every movement on screen is greeted by a shriek. Jump scares are good for one thing in Crimson Peak: they keep you awake for the dull, unoriginal story. The action really begins when Edith gets settled in with Thomas and Lucille, as the first 45 minutes where Edith swoons over Thomas are tedious, and it’s hard to say if the payoff is rewarding. The story is so predictable, and you’ll be able to spot Thomas and Lucille’s big secret from miles away.

Rather than focusing heavily on the supernatural, del Toro opts to hone in on the vices of humans like in The Shining. But this doesn’t mean anything if the characters are bland or miscast. There is little chemistry between Wasikowska and Hiddleston. Like Keanu Reeves in Dracula, I have no idea what Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim) is doing in a period film. Jessica Chastain’s formidable screen presence is undercut by the lack of menace in her character, who developed more like Cruella De Vil than Mrs. Danvers.

But Crimson Peak isn’t an outright disaster.

Allerdale Hall, constructed by del Toro and production designer Thomas E. Sanders (Saving Private Ryan, Dracula) is near flawless and doesn’t feel wasted. Del Toro goes for the extravagant feel of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it works–for the most part. Allerdale Hall is an extensively detailed behemoth that creaks and groans. Red clay oozes out of the floorboards and the house is littered with black moths. del Toro replicates the frightening narrow hallways of great horror movie houses like Hill House from The Haunting, making Allerdale Hall a character onto itself.

Crimson Peak is visually outstanding like most of del Toro’s films. However, I don’t think Guillermo del Toro — however a great visual artist — is the genius that critics and fanboys think he is. And without any substance, Crimson Peak’s beautiful imagery is more of a necessary distraction.

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