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Crimson Peak - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Crimson Peak
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-
Special Effects: B+

Horror as a genre is full of a lot of throwaway crap, but when the right director comes along, they can create something that transcends the cliches -- as Guillermo del Toro did with Pan's Labyrinth in 2006, although one could argue that was more of a dark fantasy than horror. Still, it had some deeply unsettling stuff in it, which might make you expect the same of his current foray into more straightforward horror, Crimson Peak.

Well . . . not so much. This is a relatively standard haunted house movie, with some modern twists, none of which twist quite tight enough. There are glimpses of del Toro's signature visual style, but for the most part the production design skews toward the more expected gothic motif -- underscored even more by his setting the story in late-nineteenth-century Buffalo and England.

And the story is rather slow going for far too long. When we are introduced to Edith (Mia Wasikowska), she tells us, "Ghosts are real," and we see her as a little girl being visited by the creepy ghost of her late mother -- who tells her to beware the Crimson Peak. What that is remains a mystery through most of the film, and once we find out what it is, it actually sounds kind of cool. And then the visual manifestation of it is a bit anticlimactic. As is the entire movie, really.

To its credit, at least, Crimson Peak has more than its fair share of great actors. In addition to Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe, the man who woos Edith, there's a brunette Jessica Chastain as Lucille, Thomas's sister; we progressively learn they are scheming together and have some very dark family secrets. There's also Charlie Hunnam in one of his least-memorable roles ever, as an ophthalmologist with his own, more gentlemanly interest in Edith.

But when Edith marries Thomas and they move back to his family estate in England, Crimson Peak is populated for some time only by the two of them, plus the sister, Lucille. Edith gets a second visit from her mother's ghost in 14 years while still in Buffalo, leading us to believe the story has something more to do with her -- and then Edith's mother really never factors into the story again. But Edith keeps encountering ghosts, most of them in a blood-drenched state revealing they were brutally murdered, throughout this house.

Del Toro seems to want us to think of this decrepit mansion as a character unto itself, but never quite manages to make it anything special. Edith's giant poofy-sleeved dresses are much more memorable. But, so are the actors -- this isn't the most challenging of roles for any of these performers, but it's the cast more than anything that keeps the interest going. Without them, this movie might be downright dull.

It barely escapes that description, though; as the story moves on, Crimson Peak does get progressively more compelling. And as always, it's nice to see two of the leads being women, neither of them quite fitting into the conventional mold of "victim" in the end. I just wish this movie had more of del Toro's trademark weirdness. Much of that house is very nicely shot, with leaves and snow constantly falling in through holes in the roof, but ultimately it's just another movie about a giant house filled with ghosts. Given his director's body of work, I expected better.

It doesn't help that Crimson Peak features a few instances of truly bad sound editing, the overdubbing so obvious that it's distracting, when you see lips not moving when dialogue is being heard. There are clear attempts to obscure it by having the camera cut quickly with faces partly in shadow, but it's still easy enough to see. And that's just plain lazy.

Still, I won't go so far as to say that Crimson Peak is an overall bad movie. It's hardly great, but it holds your attention. Just not enough for me to tell anyone they need to go see it.

Mia Wasikowska navigates the haunted halls in CRIMSON PEAK.

Overall: B-
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