“It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it.”
In order to allow you to properly adjust your critic-perspective scales, let me start by saying that I love Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are tremendous films, full of beauty, wonder, horror, and that great film intangible – depth. His surreal, fable-like feature debut Cronos is almost on the level of those later two masterpieces. I love both Hellboys, and yes, Blade 2, too. I even love Pacific Rim. While his Spanish language features have been seen as his major film work and his Hollywood productions his confections, Crimson Peak promised to merge the two at last and propel Del Toro to new heights. Did it succeed?
Sort of, but its not without it’s problems. This side of Sicario, Crimson Peak is easily the most visually stunning film I’ve seen in 2015, and probably one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. The actors are all outstanding, particularly Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe. I love the Gothic moods – it feels like Del Toro took everything from Poe to the Brontes, threw in some AIP Price pictures and Hammer films as seasoning, and stewed up his own Gothic feast. This is, in all ways, a sumptuous film, a deliciously lurid dark fairy tale. Sometimes, though, despite each ingredient being delicious, if you add too many and aren’t careful, you end up with a bit of a mess.
My problems with Crimson Peak are primarily the distinct lack of suspense and scares, the pacing, and some of the logic. Del Toro has said that this is a Gothic romance and not a horror film so I guess I’ll have to let the lack of frights go, but I can’t help but wish that with so many cool looking ghosts, a few of them were there to give up the tingles and jumps. Pacing-wise, while the film mostly had a nice propulsive rhythm, there were also a few scenes where the momentum ground to a halt. Wia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing is banally likable, but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that rather than naive, she’s just kind of dumb. She’s warned about practically everything from the very start, and yet, forges ahead into disaster. It’s hard to feel compassion and root for someone that acts selfishly and stupidly so consistently. The film’s central mystery and surprise is one that is obvious to the audience, and yet everyone in the film world is completely oblivious. Despite being a film primarily about passion, there’s a icy coldness that pervades every frame. It’s hard to understand who is playing at love, and who really is in love.
It could be that, upon subsequent viewings, my opinion will improve, but for now, I like Crimson Peak, but I can’t say that I love it – it’s too cold and it plays too loose with logic to love. The characters feel too much like those shiny bits of machinery and clockwork that Del Toro is so fascinated by. It was lovely to see an old fashioned Gothic on the big screen again, and as I said before, Del Toro’s visuals are truly remarkable.
So: see Crimson Peak for the visuals, the mood, and the startling, explosive violence – it’s certainly worth seeing for those reasons alone – it’s just frustrating to see a film that shoots for greatness, yet misses the mark in a number of puzzling ways.