Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Crimson Peak

3/4

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Rated R for Bloody Violence, Some Sexual Content and Brief Strong Language

"Crimson Peak" is Gothic horror in overdrive.  No one does this sort of thing better than Guillermo del Toro, who does not understand the meaning of the word "subtlety," which in this case is a good thing.  This is a grand, spooky tale with dilapidated mansions, buried secrets, and of course, ghosts.

Edythe Cushing (Wasikowska) is would-be novelist living in New York at around the turn of the century.  She lives with her father, Carter (Beaver), a wealthy business mogul, and a handsome young man named Alan (Hunnam), who has long held a torch for Edythe, has returned to town a wealthy doctor.  Also in town are Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Chastain).  He's working on an invention that will bring up oil-rich clay and is hoping that Carter will put up money to invest.  However, Carter has a bad feeling about him, and declines.  He also refuses to let him marry Edythe.  But after he is mysteriously murdered, he marries her and the two of them (along with Lucille) return to his estate in England.  However, Edythe begins to realize that Thomas and Lucille are not who they seem, and the ghosts that haunt the house (Edythe can see them) have a special plan for her.

On a visual level, the film is a technical marvel.  del Toro has always been a master at creating the creepy, the crawly and the weird, and this is different only in the sense that it's the setting and the costumes that are the stars of the show.  Expect Oscar nominations, and probable wins, in the costume, cinematography and production design departments.  Despite how the film is marketed, the ghosts are details.  In fact, with a few rewrites they could have been left out entirely.  Still, that would have prevented us from seeing what inspired visions del Toro has created.  For my money, it's a more than acceptable trade-off.

Alas, the script underwhelms.  By its nature, it's not very original.  However, the characters are stick figures, and while del Toro had the good sense to hire a quartet of talented actors, they can't rescue such an clunky screenplay.

They give it a game try, though.  Mia Wasikowska, an actress whose future Oscar is inevitable, is good as Edythe.  This isn't a part that stretches her considerable talents, since it's really a slasher movie heroine in 18th century garb.  Jessica Chastain, who also has Oscar written all over her (she's been nominated twice, and it's only a matter of time before she wins one.  Or more.), has a lot of fun playing the Ice Queen Lucille.  She is one cold lady, and she gets to do some scenery chewing too.  Sadly, Tom Hiddleston is merely adequate.  A hugely talented actor, Hiddleston fades into the background next to his leading ladies.  Maybe that's because he doesn't have an ounce of chemistry with Wasikowska (there's a reason for that, but I won't say anything else).

This is one of those movies that gets better as it goes along.  The beginning is slow going, since it details the romance between Edythe and Thomas, which in addition to being DOA, is rushed.  But like the rest of the film, the sumptuous visuals more than make up for it.  There are also some genuine scares to be found here, and a generous helping of blood and gore.

So for those of you who are looking for some chills and cool visuals, this is a solid pick.  It's also worth the extra money for IMAX, if only for the better lighting and the ability to appreciate the details.

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