“Crimson Peak” is beautiful but flawed

“Crimson Peak” is the newest film by visionary writer and director Guillermo del Toro, who is best known for his work on his last film, the explosive and massive “Pacific Rim,” but is most acclaimed for his early films “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Cronos.”

With this new venture, del Toro scales back into the subgenres of horror and gothic romance. This film, set in the late 19th century in New York and England, follows young writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). Edith is unconcerned about marriage and high society life like so many other women in her life, but becomes enamored with a dashing man of wealth, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). This love affair is met with contention by Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver) and Thomas’ sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and is almost shattered until a series of tragic events befall Edith. She decides to marry Thomas and move away to his mansion, situated on the Crimson Peak, a cliff named that turns red due to clay seepage from the ground as the house sinks into a mine shaft.

Realizing that she was warned about the titular Crimson Peak at a young age by the ghost of her deceased mother, Edith attempts to make sense of the Sharpe siblings and their mansion. Her belief in ghosts takes a terrifying term when she is perpetually haunted by the mansion ghost known only as Enola (Doug Jones), who warns her of danger at every turn.

The production value of the film is beyond words, with intricate costumes, cinematography and set designs. The most impressive designs come from the cliff-side mansion, Allerdale Hall and from the Crimson Peak, which are some of the most stunning designs that del Toro has ever envisioned on screen. The acting works on all accounts, with Jessica Chastain doing an especially good job as a more morally questionable character than usual.

The dialogue did need work throughout, like other English screenplays by del Toro. Another criticism is the story, which eventually winds down to cliché motivations. The film is marred by a sluggish pace in the middle, as Edith investigates her husband and her sister-in-law. They become increasingly suspicious, as past actions and the mansion’s history come to light.

The film’s R rating is rightfully earned, as some death scenes were especially brutal and bloody, and Enola is made of blood and bone. However audiences should not go into this film expecting the full-blown horror movie that was advertised, although I would fault the marketing for that. This is merely a gothic romance film with a ghost in it, not a ghost horror story, and while there are some scares in the film, they are few in between. The film is more concerned with the romance of Edith and Thomas, along with that of Edith’s childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who has an unrequited crush on Edith.

Overall, the film has its share of pacing, storytelling and dialogue problems, and marketing mishaps did not portray it accurately. Nonetheless it is still a fun diversion from an exceptional director.

Film: “Crimson Peak”
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆