A new Guillermo del Toro movie is always an intriguing thing. A versatile director who’s championed many a genre by refusing to stick to their conventions, he now greets us with his take on gothic horror. Gothic horror was in its prime during the reign of Vincent Price, and has never managed to fully resurrect itself to its former glory. Many modern horror films use elements of the gothic but rarely do we experience the genre, fully, in modern cinema. Crimson Peak attempts to bring new life to gothic horror but does more damage than good with its muddled plot, empty characterisation and feeble script. Edith is a strong-willed young lady; an aspiring writer with a determination she gets from her father. Following a gruesome tragedy, she is whisked away to England with her new husband – a mysterious stranger whose intrigue captures her heart. Haunted by ghosts of her past, Edith must try to embrace her new home and life but finds herself unsettled by creaks, whispers and things that go bump in the night. It is apparent her new husband and his sister are guarding a terrible secret, a story from the past that their dilapidated mansion also seems to remember. A pretty enjoyable first half goes to waste when the film’s second hour descends into absolute chaos. The film begins by creating promising commentary on women, their position in the era, the role of ghosts as metaphors in fiction and the power of the past to “haunt” us. Sadly, as we enter the sinister manor within which the film’s final half takes place all meaning, symbolism and potential ideas go soaring out of the window to perish in the engulfing snow.
Tom Hiddleston gives us a typically intense and charming performance but is let down by the film’s bizarre nature and lazy treatment of his character. Mia Wasikowska is desperately annoying as Edith as she was as Alice in Tim Burton’s Wonderland adaptation/travesty. She’s a talented actress whose reputation is once again damaged by bad filmmaking. The greatest waste is of Jessica Chastain, one of the finest actresses currently working in Hollywood. Chastain gives a deeply compelling performance which is completely squandered on this car crash of a movie where she’s tightly squeezed and squashed into a cliched stereotype of horror. For an hour I was on side, for the next twenty minutes I tried to mentally excuse what was happening and for the final forty minutes I was laughing and sighing in disbelief. If Crimson Peak were an item of clothing it would be a string vest – full of holes and altogether gastly. The film builds towards a big reveal, the unveiling of a great secret which falls flat on its face. The saddest thing of all is that the film’s aesthetic is weak. The ghosts we see are reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and lack all the individuality and creative detail we expect from del Toro. I can forgive del Toro an ill-judged script and story – we all make mistakes – but it’s a lot harder to forgive unoriginality and complete blandness of aesthetic. Chaos reigns and everyone, including del Toro, seems lost in the peculiarity of it all; Crimson Peak is not horror, just horrifying.
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