Starring Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak” brings us the story of Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a young and rich girl who, after losing her father, marries a wealthy suitor she believes to be the love of her life. Tormented by ghosts since childhood, Edith’s real nightmares begin when she moves to England to live in a gothic mansion with her husband Thomas Sharpe and his sister (Hiddleston and Chastain).
Of all things that make up “Crimson Peak”, almost none of them works. It’s a drama, fantasy, horror, and I found myself excited by none of them. The drama is cliché to the bones and can be found in several gothic/romantic novels. Likewise, fantasy has been perfected by studios (Disney) and directors (Tim Burton comes to mind) and this film offers nothing better nor different. Finally, you’ll not find yourself jumping out of your seat with the thin horror of “Crimson Peak”.
The only high point of “Crimson Peak” is the production design. Sets are extravagant and yet ghastly. The gothic atmosphere is everywhere in England and evokes the memories of all great novels that had their stories set under those cloudy skies, such as “Jane Eyre”. The mood is perfect and prone for a great drama/horror tale. You won’t find it in “Crimson Peak” though.
It would have been fine for director Guillermo del Toro to focus more on one of the genre or another. The problem is in a mix where no genre is used to its best. The root of this problem is in the screenplay. The first hour of the film felt like 10 or 15 pages were spread into 60. I began thinking about Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho” where all the horror, thriller and suspense are already well set up by early on in the film. As a more recent example, “Scream” has a fantastic opening which thrusts viewers right into the action.
Things do get better once we get to England for the second half. The house sits on red clay, which seeps through the floor cracks and helps foment the mood of the film. Here, there is also a scene where del Toro uses the Stanley Kubrick’s one-point perspective – one of his visual hallmarks – which reminded me of the long hallways in “The Shining”. The camera approaches Edith slowly as she takes a bath: a creepy voyeur scene that is the best dramatic and thrilling moments of the film, in addition to, of course, being a beautiful homage.
The acting suffers from the poor script. (Spoiler alert!) When Thomas suddenly turns into a good character at the end of the film, his acting doesn’t change enough. He’s still the same, making us wonder if the performance suffers more at the beginning or at the end of the film. Wasikowska and Chastain also have difficulties extracting anything meaningful from the script. Their characters are just limited by good and evil, leaving them no room to work at the different layers that make up real personality and behavior.
“Psycho”, “The Shining”, “Scream”, “The Sixth Sense” are some of the films that would be on my list for Halloween. However, the odd mix of “Crimson Peak” where no genre, drama, horror or fantasy, really excels is definitely one you should pass. Just pretend it was a ghost that didn’t exist.