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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Crimson Peak
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by Jay Seaver

"As beautiful and empty as its haunted house."
3 stars

About a week ago, I saw a horror movie with a much smaller budget than "Crimson Peak" that was very clearly built around the house where the action occurs, and I propose that the same can be said for this one. Sure, Guillermo Del Toro and his crew had to build the place he saw in his imagination, but this is a movie about taking the audience into Allerdale Hall, with everything else good enough to make the trip there a bit more than gawking at an astounding setting.

Things start elsewhere, in Buffalo, NY, where Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) informs the audience that she has always known there were ghosts; when she was ten, the spirit of her recently-deceased mother warned her not to go to Crimson Peak. Now, at the turn of the twentieth century, she is working on her first book, a "story with a ghost" that betrays her lack of interest in romance, despite the obvious torch being carried by her friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam), a young doctor. It is Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet in town to find funding for an excavation device to re-open the clay mines on his estate, who catches her eye, although her father (Jim Beaver) disapproves. Nevertheless, Edith and Thomas are soon married, returning to Cumberland, England with Thomas's sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

It takes an unusually long time, by Del Toro standards, to get to this haunted house: For much of his career, at least from Mimic to Pacific Rim, he's tended to do relatively little set-up before getting to the good stuff. Here, he spends a fair amount of time in Buffalo setting up a situation for Edith that does not seem to require such care. Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins stretch out the Gothic Romance tropes that they follow almost slavishly; there's not a lot that's unpredictable but care is take to make sure the audience can follow by repeating and elongating points. On top of that, they let some of the air out early, both with an unnecessary flash-forward at the start and the way that ghosts being real is made a given early on, although the point is made about Edith's novel being a story with a ghost rather thana ghost story that any thrills which may come from that are dulled.

That almost doesn't matter when the audience sees Allerdale Hall, though; in a career filled with astonishing visuals, it may be Guillermo Del Toro's most beautiful creation, dilapidated but grand in its decay, packed to the rafters with beautiful detailing. It's self-indulgent, certainly, especially when Del Toro is focusing on clockwork technology like wax recording cylinders, but the delight of just looking at the screen become practical as the film reaches its climax - a stylistic flourish comes in handy, for instance, and when the walls seem to bleed, it's gorgeous and entirely fitting with what came before.

It's not just the house; everything about the film is impeccably designed. Some may grumble about how digital the ghosts look, but they're brilliant, almost insectoid in how dark and bony they are, with decaying flesh and clothing seeming to float away from that skeleton. The wardrobe is gorgeous, from the contrast of Edith's yellows to Lucille's burgundies, and every item a character handles shows some loving attention, as does every location. Even things as small Edith's glasses seem perfectly deployed, adding a dash of schoolmarm to what could be a simple ingenue.

Not that Mia Wasikowska should need that sort of help, although she does get rather swallowed up by the ornate environment and the propriety expected of women in the genre. Tom Hiddleston gets to be a bit more dynamic, although he doesn't dive into the moments which could paint Thomas as sinister quite as much as one would hope. Jessica Chastain does not have that problem; whether she turns out to be more truly malevolent or just threatened by another woman in the house, she charges every scene she's in (aside: kudos to De Toro and Robbins for making sure that neither of their women is too delicate to actually fight when the time comes). Charlie Hunnam, unfortunately, gets stuck being nice but dull so that Hiddleston can look more charming, but whoever chose to cast longtime television character actor Jim Beaver as Edith's father was inspired.

Guillermo Del Toro loves genre fare of all sorts, and you can see that affection in the attention to detail that he has lavished on every frame of "Crimson Peak". It's a beautiful movie, mounted so well and featuring enough great moments that I wouldn't dream of telling folks to skip it, especialy on the big screen. As much as it may look like one of his Spanish-language movies mounted with a Hollywood budget, though, it doesn't have those films' genuine sense of tragedy and heart that would truly sear its great looks into the viewer's memory.

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originally posted: 10/18/15 10:34:10
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell pretty 2 look at but dull and unscary 1 stars
1/19/16 Alexis H Great plot, awesome twists I did not see coming and Mia Wasikowska 5 stars
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