Del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” Has Plenty Of Color But Lacks Story

By Scott Kurland
Film: Crimson Peak
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowski, Charlie Hunnam, Burn Gorman, Jim Beaver, and Leslie Hope
Rated R
Director: Guillermo Del Toro

 Some directors, like Scorsese, Spielberg, Allen, and Tarantino are considered mainstream directors. Some, like Wes and Paul Thomas Anderson (no relation), Richard Linklater, and Alfonso Cuaron, are indie darlings. However, there is another category; cult directors. These are indie directors with big budgets who make great films that people miss often out on. These directors include Edgar Wright, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and John Waters. Tossed into this category is the director of this week’s film “Crimson Peak”. The director in question; Guillermo Del Toro. Now lets find out if “Crimson Peak” lives up to the hype shall we?

“Crimson Peak” is a gothic love story pitting Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowski) and Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) at the heart of it’s tawdry romance. Edith is a wealthy young heiress who is championed by her father Carter (Jim Beaver), to become a great writer. Thomas is a fallen Baronette from England who arrives in Buffalo with his sister Lucille Sharpe in tow (Jessica Chastain). Thomas arrives expecting to acquire backers to fund a machine that will mine their land for red clay that lies underneath the family mansion. Thomas "unexpectedly" falls for Edith. The two swiftly tie the knot and move to England. However, once there; Edith begins to discover things about her new home; very unpleasant things. This ancient crumbling mansion is haunted by ghosts as well as a secret that Lucille and Thomas are desperate to keep hidden. Is it all in Edith's mind or will she the uncover actual skeletons hidden in the closet?

Ok, I say this a lot, but I was really hoping I’d love this film. I like Del Toro’s other films including the bad ones like “Mimic” and well…. “Mimic”. Don’t get me wrong “Crimson Peak” is a gorgeous film to look at. However, the story is lacking substance. We really needed a good gothic love story, but this isn’t it. There are many problems with this film. For starters I didn’t believe the chemistry between Wasikowski and Hiddleston. Also, the “shocking twist” wasn’t much of a twist at all. If anything, it was a welcome distraction for the audience. The main problem with this film is the script by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins. I shouldn’t expect much from Robbins, he directed “*batteries not included”, “Bingo”, “The Legend of Billy Jean”, and “Dragonslayer”. Robbins’ credibility was already lacking, and I doubt he added anything of substantial to the script. What is upsetting about the story is that the beginning drags and the ending is wrapped up too quickly. The last forty five minutes felt rushed, and those forty five minutes are what made me slightly enjoy this film.

When you have Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in a film, you know they’ll deliver it every time. Charlie Hunnam and Mia Wasikowski normally deliver as well, but they both feel miscast here. Hunnam was trying too hard to make his Dr. McMichael like Sherlock Holmes. I find this ironic because Wasikowski’s Edith was trying too hard to be Mary Shelley. Maybe their attempts at capturing the essence of famous literary figures made it easier for Hiddleston and Chastain to steal the spotlight. Chastain is suppose to be this enigma of a woman. You aren’t sure if she’s an antagonist or not. After twenty minutes of screen time, you’re rooting for her over Wasikowski. You don’t care if she’s good or bad, you just want her to have the world on a platter. I know that’s not fair to say because Chastain has this Meryl-Streep-like presence in all her films, and Wasikowski isn’t a character actor like that. 

I will say this. Besides Hiddleston and Chastain’s performance, I did love one other thing about this film; the sets. This is an epic period piece with beautiful sets and costumes. Let’s not forget to mention the designs of the ghost. The ghosts are creepy and hauntingly beautiful, but there is a problem with them….too much CGI. Del Toro’s other films balance handmade prosthetics, make-up and CGI flawlessly. “Crimson Peak” forgets that, and the ghosts scream CGI which clashes with the handmade sets. These sets are so amazing they even ooze the red blood clay when the actors step on the front steps of the house. Yet, trust me when I say that the CGI is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things that amount to this movie.

“Crimson Peak” is a breathtaking film. Everything looks fantastic. Even the gore is magnificent to look at. But this film has the same problem that “The Walk” had. Remember in my review of “The Walk” how I talked about it suffering as a kids film marketed as thriller? “Crimson Peak” is an old victorian gothic masquerading as a romance and horror film. This isn’t a romance like they’re claiming and it’s also not very frightening like you were hoping. Del Toro puts his heart and soul into this film and it pays off with the production design. Story and theme on the other hand don’t get off that easily. 

I had such high hopes for “Crimson Peak”. I own practically every film Del Toro has directed, and I’ll probably end up buying this one eventually because it will grow on me. Yet with films, no matter how big or small, they shouldn’t have to grow on you. They should either encompass you from the beginning or you hate them right away. That’s the problem with “Crimson Peak”. I know the story is lacking but I wanted to like this film. Actually, I wanted to love this film. I can forgive it for the lack of chemistry. I can look past all the script problems. Why can I do all that? That’s simple, because this film is so beautiful to look at. Each frame of this film could be a gothic victorian painting. You can save your money for the theater release, but this film is eye catching enough that you should at least see this film on video on-demand or rental from Red Box.

scott kurlandComment