‘Crimson Peak’ Review: All Flash, No Substance

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 18, 2015

Guillermo Del Toro is known for being a masterful storyteller, one who truly enraptures the viewer into the worlds he crafts on the screen. The realm of horror and fantasy are where Del Toro truly signs, allowing his uniquely singular visual flair to flourish. Crimson Peak benefits from Del Toro’s aesthetic, highly stylized and gothic; it’s a beautiful film. Unfortunately, its narrative is about as derivative a horror film in recent memory.

Following Edith Cushing’s (Mia Wasikowska) marriage to the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom HIddleston), she soon moves into the Sharpe estate in England where Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), also lives. Edith has a gift in seeing the dead, and things in the house are not as they seem as spirits and apparitions begin appearing to Edith trying to convey a message to her throughout the film. There are obviously more nuances to the plot of the film, but I will attempt to avoid the details in the interest of spoilers. Across the ocean, in America, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), an old friend of Edith’s performs an impromptu investigation on the history of the Sharpes and the mysterious events surrounding Edith and Thomas’ marriage. 

The Sharpe family home is a beautiful sight to behold. Grandiose, yet decrepit, this old house holds horrors beyond belief. Little details about the home, such as a small hole in the roof allowing snow and leaves to enter and the presence of a blood-red clay in the soil add visual flairs throughout. The Sharpe siblings have something off about them, and the unsettling nature of their family home adds to the uneasy feeling. However, the plot of the film is just cliche after cliche. Wasikowska is a fine actress, but her romance with Thomas feels hollow and she merely reacts to her surroundings the entire film. Even with her special Sixth Sense style power, she refuses to take initiative for herself which was, at times, frustrating as a viewer. Tom Hiddleston’s character is morally ambiguous and shown as internally conflicted. Yet, the more the audience learns about him, the harder it is to understand how he could be a changed man with Edith. Their love story proceeds far too rapidly, and while Thomas is charming, that alone isn’t convincing enough to have Edith follow him from America to England. The two leads aren’t giving bad performances, their characters are just hollowly written. 

Along with the wonderfully ghastly home aesthetic, the ghost designs are spectacularly gruesome and unsettling. Less transparent versions of people, and more in line with floating skeletal nightmares, they are the Del Toro flourish I wanted to see. They also aren’t nearly as significant as the marketing would have you to believe. Crimson Peak is more a period drama/mystery than a pure horror film, but that isn’t what is holding the movie back. Lucille Sharpe is a somewhat problematic character. She is so over-the-top and myopic that she appears to be from an almost different film entirely. Not to mention, every twist inlcuding her and her brother was painfully obvious far before the actual reveals, which for a plot that relies on mystery, significantly dampens the intended impact of the twists. 

Crimson Peak wants to be a contemplative mystery, dealing with themes of loss and love, but it ends up being a beautiful, albeit heavily flawed, tale of greed and deceit. The complete lack of originality in the script as well as discordant character motivations make it tough for me to recommend this to anyone but the most devout Del Toro fans. I wanted to love this movie, but all I could do as I left the theater was hope for something more.

Final Say: Skip It

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He's a native Texan (YEE-HAW) who loves everything Michael Bay has ever touched. When he's not blogging, he's working on his mobile app, BoxHopp, or tinkering with his fantasy football lineups.
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