Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

Film: Crimson Peak (2015)
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

The films of Guillermo del Toro are ones that I generally like more in theory than in practice.  My first encounter with one of his movies was a doozy, the brilliant and excellent Pan's Labyrinth, still one of my favorite movies from the mid-Aughts.  However, everything after that for some reason hasn't really clicked.  I didn't like Pacific Rim except for the Charlie Hunnam-exploitation, and the Hellboy movies left me a bit cold and uninspired.  His films are visual feats, especially in the ways that he crushes on his favorite color of red, but the substance is almost always lacking and the story is thin.  The movies rely upon rather predictable plots, which shows in this handsomely-executed and occasionally amusingly-acted piece that still is utterly predictable and lacks some of the scares you'd hope for from a horror movie.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), a young woman of a considerable fortune in the turn of the 20th Century who wishes to become the next Mary Shelley, writing stories about ghosts when publishers demand she consider romance instead.  She is pursued initially by a handsome doctor Alan McMichael (Hunnam), but instead falls for the charming but enigmatic Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), who woos her away after her father's untimely death to be his wife, living alongside his harsh and domineering sister Lucille (Chastain).  As the film progresses, Edith becomes sick and is haunted by the spirits of women who died violent deaths in the house, all the while realizing that her husband and his sister are involved in an incestuous relationship and are slowly poisoning her.

The film's predictability is really one of its major downfalls.  The thing is that in an era where we are trained to expect a twist (M. Night Shyamalan has left his mark in that regard), the film's straight-forwardness is in some ways refreshing.  We don't need to have a random dead main character to make this film stand out.  However, the film feels almost like it drags as a result of the lack of suspense.  The initial idea about Thomas and Lucille (that they're an incestuous brother-and-sister pair of fortune-seekers) is actually what happens, which causes the film to be kind of dull.  Horror movies rely upon surprises and the occasional shock death to keep their films moving, but Crimson Peak has no surprises-what you see is what you get, and as a result we never get the sense that Edith is in any real danger.  The film's ending results in her running away with Alan and ending up fleeing the mansion, while a dead Lucille becomes the new ghostly lady-of-the-house.  This is exactly what you'd have expected upon the first trailer, and the film doesn't have enough oomph to really sell such a predictable premise.

This is a problem not of anyone really involved, but because the film feels more like a series of portions rather than a cohesive vision.  The actors are all good, particularly Chastain as the creepy Agnes Moorehead-style sister, and the set decoration/costumes are divine to behold.  The effects are appropriately gory (someone's been watching The Knick), and the eyes get a series of truly great images, particularly the house with the roof that won't mend.  However, nothing seems to fit together.  Each scene feels more like a vignette rather than something that makes sense with the previous moment.  We never get a reason, for example why everyone seems to marvel at Edith, who has man flaunting after her despite her bookish disposition and nose-turned-up attitude.  We also don't get why Edith didn't scoop up Alan right away considering her need for her father's favor and the fact that Alan is a sweet, nice guy who also happens to be a brick house.  The entire story, in fact, surrounding Thomas and his allure evades me.  Hiddleston is appropriately attractive and we do get to see some male nudity as he constantly promised on Graham Norton, but his character is kind of a wimp and it's hard to see what his appeal to Lucille is, considering she's the sharper and stronger player in the relationship.  With a lack of suspense in the film, these loopholes start to make more sense and the movie, which feels plucked from a mystery novel of the time, can't quite modernize the tale enough to translate well to the cinema.

That being said, I'm going with three stars here because it's still interesting even if it's not particularly great.  It's the sort of film that if it looks appealing, you won't leave without having enjoyed what you saw, and if you aren't interested, there's nothing to surprise.  This isn't Pan's Labyrinth, a film that would convert new del Toro patrons, but it's not a movie that will alienate the current fanbase.  Like Quentin Tarantino in a lot of ways, del Toro seems to be stuck in his own shadow and hype, but he's still good enough to not make totally narcissistic work (quite yet).

Those were my thoughts on Crimson Peak, what are yours?  Did anyone love the film or hate it (it evaded a meh from me except for some acting and visuals)?  What do you think are its Oscar chances?  And what do you want to see next from Guillermo del Toro?

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