By: Kevin Jordan
Well, that was a…umm…movie.
One of these days, Guillermo del Toro is going to make a movie that blows us all away. Ten years ago, I thought that movie was going to be Pan’s Labyrinth, which featured fantastic creatures and a few really good scenes, but was a disappointing movie overall. Then, Hellboy 2 came out, the fantasy nerd in me shrieked in delight, but at no point during the film did I ever think del Toro hit his peak. More recently, Pacific Rim released and the makers of the latest Godzilla movie cried because Pacific Rim was exactly the movie they thought they were making until they noticed that they had left Godzilla out of two thirds of their movie. Pacific Rim was an awesome movie, but all del Toro really proved was how not to fuck up a giant-monster-battle-royale movie. Amazingly, those are the only three movies del Toro directed between 2006 and this weekend’s Crimson Peak, and after watching Crimson Peak I can unequivocally say that it was, indeed, a movie.
Maybe it was the toll put him on during his involvement with The Hobbit trilogy that led to a very ho-hum Crimson Peak because it was the least creative movie he’s ever made (full disclosure – I haven’t seen any of his foreign films). If you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know there are ghosts and as my friend succinctly put it, “you could have interchanged any of the ghosts and nobody would have noticed.” The lack of del Toro’s usual eye-poppingly unique creatures was painfully evident as the humans in the film were asked to carry this film on their back. Granted, they are very capable humans (Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, and Tom Hiddleston, with support from Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver), but the lackluster story and screenplay buried them.
First act notwithstanding, the film is a haunted house thriller that del Toro insists is not a horror flick, but a gothic romance. Seriously, look it up (del Toro said as much in interviews). Even though the film features ghosts that look like they are bleeding, it’s really about a romance between Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) and Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and is set around the turn of the twentieth century in a dark and spooky house in England (mostly), so gothic.
(Side note: I could have a problem with this since the Gothic period was from the 12th century to the 16th century and this movie is a period piece, but I didn’t know del Toro had said that prior to watching the movie. It has no bearing on the movie anyway, the characters “look Goth,” and del Toro might still have been a Hobbit-made puddle, so whatever.)
And you know what – I believe him. Sadly, that’s what makes Crimson Peak so ho-hum. I don’t go into del Toro’s movies looking for romance and I’m guessing neither does anyone else. The romance in question is between Edith and Thomas, much to the chagrin of Edith’s father, Carter (Beaver). Thomas’s sister, Lucille (Chastain), condones it only so far as to get to Edith’s money. Dr. McMichael (Hunnam) has eyes for Edith, but never acts on it and is forced to settle for disapproving looks at Thomas. The first act ends predictably, the movie relocates to the Sharpe estate in England (the Cushings live in Buffalo, NY), and the cast shrinks down to the Sharpes and Edith. The rest of the film is Edith uncovering the truth about the Sharpes and trying not to die, neither of which is particularly interesting.
At this point, you should be wondering two things – (1) what about the ghosts and (2) why is the movie called Crimson Peak? Those are supposed to be the two interesting things, and like the rest of the film, underwhelm. In reverse order, Crimson Peak is a nickname for the hill that the Sharpes’ house is built on, so named because the red clay it is built on stains the snow red during the winter. Incidentally, Thomas marries Edith in part because he needs money to restart his family’s clay mine. Anyway, the ghosts exist solely as a combination of breadcrumbs and oracle to Edith. At first, they appear to be menacing, but, like most of the ghosts in The Haunting, they really just want the heroine to save/avenge them. While they are creepy looking, the only entertainment they provided was my friend wondered why oracles in movies never speak in plain words rather than riddles. Specifically, Edith’s dead mom appears to her early in the film and says “Beware of Crimson Peak.” If her warning was so dire, why not just use the actual name of the Sharpe estate or “Beware of Thomas Sharpe” or “Beware of the crazy bitch playing the piano?”
I’m sure a lot of main stream critics are going to overlook the lackluster, blah nature of the story in order to fawn all over Jessica Chastain, the costumes, and set pieces. They’ll also make sure to tell you that Tom Hiddleston also plays Loki in the Avengers movies because they think you are stupid, blind, and live under a rock. What they don’t realize is that they focused on those things because the movie was that boring. So, if you read any other reviews and they try to convince you that it is a good movie, just remember that they are only right about one thing – it is, in fact, a movie.
Rating: Ask for eight dollars back. The remainder is equal to the percentage of importance costumes and set pieces are to making a movie good.