Friday, October 16, 2015

31 Days of Halloween: Crimson Peak

[31 Days of Halloween 2015: CRIMSON PEAK is now playing in theaters everywhere.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

*Note: As with last year’s 31 Days of Halloween marathon of horror movie reviews, we’ll be diving deep into the new release section looking for modern horror fare, hoping for the best, but frankly expecting the worst.*

Review by Bob Ignizio

Given his known love of classic horror films, not to mention his track record for making effective horror films of his own (CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABYRINTH), the prospect of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro putting his spin on a gothic horror/romance inspired by early Hammer films, Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and Mario Bava’s color saturated sixties shockers is a tantalizing one.

The film in question is CRIMSON PEAK, in which heroine Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) falls for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a charming aristocrat fallen on hard times. Along with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Sir Thomas is doing everything he can to acquire the necessary cash to perfect an invention he believes will change their fortunes. To this end he goes before an investment group led by Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver), but the soft Englishman doesn’t impress these hardscrabble Americans who worked to get to where they are. Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) provides the requisite love triangle as a longtime friend of Edith’s who gamely accepts that his puppy dog crush goes unreturned.

Eventually Carter winds up dead, and Edith winds up married to Thomas. The newlyweds head off to not so jolly old England to live in the decrepit Sharpe family home along with Lucille, and it isn’t long before Edith starts to believe the manor may have other, less corporeal inhabitants as well.  Meanwhile back in America, Doctor McMichael suspects something isn’t quite right and starts investigating Carter’s death. What he discovers sends him across the pond in heroic Van Helsing fashion to save his beloved, but he may be too late. It’s a fairly typical plot for this sort of thing, in particular reminding one of Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER, but that familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately other aspects of the film keep it from being quite as much fun as it should be.

In an early scene, Carter tries to instill in Edith, an aspiring writer, the importance of using the right tool for a given job. To that end, he presents her with an especially fine pen. Edith, however, is more enamored of the modern typewriters in her dad’s office, state of the art for the film’s late 19th century setting. It’s not a bad analogy for del Toro’s filmmaking approach here, which eschews the more tactile filmmaking techniques of the classic films it seeks to emulate in favor of high tech gloss. It results in a film whose production design is so slick and digitized that it undermines the gothic horror.

The romance part of the equation doesn’t fare all that well, either. Hiddleston and Wasakowska both turn in fine performances, delivering the flowery dialogue with class and conviction. The problem is the film never gives us any reason to believe for a second that either of them is attracted to the other. They come together simply because the plot demands it. And Hunnam’s puppy dog Doctor doesn’t exactly set the heart aflutter, either.

Certainly it feels as if del Toro’s heart was in CRIMSON PEAK, and yet at the same time it’s as if he forgot to put any heart into his film. Like his previous film, PACIFIC RIM, del Toro seems to have far more passion for working in a particular genre and playing with its tropes than he does in telling any particular story or saying anything of substance. The end result is a gothic horror romance in which the romance is devoid of life, and in which the gothic horror is undermined by production design so slick and digitized it feels like we’re watching a feature length video game cutscene. 2 ½ out of 4 stars.

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