The best complement I can give director Guillermo del Toro, is he has one of the most unique visions of any director whose films I have ever seen, even more so he has the passion to back it up. His early film works were all original takes on old films, based on even older stories. He did his version of Dracula in 1993 with “Cronos”, a fresh and albeit underrated version of Frankenstein’s monster four years later in “Mimic” and a creepy look at ghosts in 2001 with “The Devil’s Backbone”. After his foray into the early life of the superhero films with “Blade II” (cough-best-in-the-series) and the awesome Helboy series, with a fantastic sidestep in to the fantasy with the genius film “Pan’s Labyrinth” (and don’t get me started on the love “Pacific Rim” should have recieved) del Toro ventures into a classic genre in that of ‘the haunted mansion’, with some saying is fitting since was going to direct a Disney version of “Haunted Mansion”. He chose instead to lend his unique sensibilities and love of gothic horror to his current film “Crimson Peak”.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young modern woman in late 19th century New York, a writer and a girl who can see dead people. After tragedy strikes her family, she goes to live with the man she has fallen for, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in their truly gothic home in England. When she arrives the mansion displays all the traits of being haunted. As Edith tries to get to the bottom of the ghosts that roam the mansion, back in America her friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) is doing his own investigation on the mysterious Sharpe’s and their dark past.
There is so much wrong with this film, it is hard to know where to begin. So I will say I enjoyed most of Hiddleston’s performance, and the set design is really impressive, it is filled with the del Toro troupes right down to the bleeding walls. Most of it’s problems stem from the terrible script by del Toro and Matthew Robbins. It attempts to tell a straight forward gothic romance, but falters as it tries to add a air of mystery, which only works when the audience is along for the ride, however you can pretty much put all the pieces together way before the final outcome. To give you an example, there is a plot device that was used in a Superman movie, and not one of the good ones. As the characters go through the motions and del Toro does his best to create a feel of old-time filmmaking, he doesn’t succeed in making it interesting like say Coppola did in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. There also is a lot of either intentional of unintentional homages to Kubrick’s “The Shinning” in rubber ball gag, a creepy lady in a tub, to the climax in the snow. Though a clear attempt was made, the filmmakers do not succeed in living up to the previously mentioned films, nor does it do a good job at creating a interesting or very entertaining film.
I consider myself a huge del Torro fan and sometime apologist, though I don’t have to defend much since his films are so visually striking and almost always fun in some way shape or form. With “Crimson Peak” though I would have to consider it a swing and a miss. I do recommend however you seek out his film “The Devil’s Backbone” which tackles some of the same subjects and ideas he tried to make work here, only with a better result.
–Robert L. Castillo