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‘Crimson Peak’ A Great-Looking Misfire

‘Crimson Peak’ A Great-Looking Misfire

I am such an
admirer of Guillermo del Toro that I want his films to be as great as he is.
But just as del Toro values honesty in his relationship with his filmmaking compadres
Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, I have to be straightforward in
evaluating Crimson Peak: it’s a
disappointment.

On the plus
side, the film is a feast for the eyes. Thomas E. Sanders’ production design
and Kate Hawley’s costumes are sumptuous beyond description. Obviously they and
their collaborators took their cues from del Toro, whose visual imagination is
without rival. This gothic ghost story/ romance offers a broad canvas, from the
interior of a Victorian home to a crumbling mansion in the English countryside.
Every shot in Crimson Peak would be
worthy of a page in a handsome coffee-table book.

Nor can I fault
the actors. Mia Wasikowska plays a proto-feminist who believes in ghosts—with
good reason—but has no interest in romance until she falls under the spell of a
dashing Englishman (Tom Hiddleston). He has come to Buffalo, New York to
persuade her father (Jim Beaver) to invest in his mining machine, with his
eerie-looking sister (Jessica Chastain) in tow. Beaver doesn’t like the looks
of them from day one. Indeed, their history is a bizarre one that plays out as
our heroine journeys to their home in England.

The
performances are excellent: the always-watchable Wasikowska is perfectly cast as
an independent minded young woman. What’s more, she looks radiantly beautiful:  elegantly coiffed, gowned, and photographed. Her
infatuation with Hiddleston is equally credible; he effortlessly oozes charm
but also reveals a conflicted conscience. Beaver is exceptionally good as
Wasikowska’s prosperous, loving father. Chastain is the only performer who
suffers, forced to play a heavy-handed character with little if any nuance in
her evil makeup.

With a funeral as the opening scene
and creepy goings-on throughout the narrative, del Toro repeatedly challenges
us to figure out how all of this adds up, and why Wasikowska has been chosen to
encounter the spectral figures that haunt her both here and in England.  

But as the
film goes on, the constant teases—without resolution—grow tiresome, and when
the answers are revealed they are less than earth-shattering. Del Toro is
famous for writing and drawing ideas as they occur to him in his notebooks, and
finding the ideal outlets for them in his films, sometimes years after he
devised them. But those individual images and moments don’t add up to a solid
screenplay. (The script is credited to the director and Matthew Robbins, who
formerly collaborated on Mimic and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.)

Guillermo del
Toro would be the first one to say that storytelling is the primary job of a
filmmaker. He has shown his brilliance in Pan’s
Labyrinth
and the less-recognized but equally compelling The Devil’s Backbone. Sorry to say, Crimson Peak is not in their league.

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