Sure, Halloween’s on the horizon and fans of scary movies are panting and starving for the next big chiller. But everyone except easy lays and hopeless fanboys might want to pump the brakes before rushing out to see Crimson Peak, the latest from that gifted but increasingly frustrating director-writer Guillermo del Toro. The good news is that this one, a ghostly gothic romance, is at least a step up from Del Toro’s killjoy kaiju would-be epic Pacific Rim. The less good news is that, compared to the director’s own Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone – let alone old school supernatural classics on the order of The Haunting, The Innocents or The Others—this one is strictly forgettable. Of course, some contemporary audiences find those movies to be riotously old-fashioned and funny. So, who knows? Maybe, because this one is directed by Del Toro, they’ll swallow the overheated silliness of Crimson Peak hook, line, and sinker.
It’s a gaga, over-the-top visual stunner with oversaturated color that bows deeply to older movies including the ‘60s output of Hammer Studios and the work of giallo maestro Mario Bava, served with a heaping helping of Poe and Lovecraft, let alone the much loved ‘40s movie versions of Rebecca and Jane Eyre and the female-penned novels on which they were based. But the Del Toro-Matthew Robbins-written movie is unsurprising, illogical, dramatically anemic and not the least bit scary.
Mia Wasikowska (livelier and smirking less than usual) plays rich, orphaned, headstrong young 19th century aspiring author Edith Cushing. Even her surname is a tribute to Hammer icon Peter Cushing. Once she spurns her stalwart, loving childhood boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) for mysterious, spidery Continental seducer Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), most of her drive and intelligence fly out the window and she becomes a dim bulb damsel in distress. Before you can say The Fall of the House of Usher, Sharpe spirits away the impressionable Edith to his crumbling, ghost-addled rotting wreck of an ancestral family home.
The house itself, a triumph for production designer Thomas E. Sanders and art director Brandt Gordon, is a heavy breathing, constantly bleeding, oozing thing that’s part cathedral, part Manderley presided over by Sharpe’s highly protective, even weirder sister Lucille. Jessica Chastain plays Lucille in such an arch, full-tilt high camp style – think of Mrs. Danvers on a Dark Shadows-style TV show – that we sincerely hope she’s in on the joke. But, unlike the highly unconvincing ghosts that send Edith running in terror, Chastain is at least fun to watch, adding flair to what is, in the end, a pretty standard shriek and scare, woman in jeopardy thriller with trippy colors, name actors, and one hell of haunted mansion.