2015. Rated PG-13, 119 minutes.
When our film opens, we're told it's 1887 in Buffalo, New York. It's also late at night, and a young girl who is supposed to be sleeping can't quite get to la la land thanks to the ghost making all sorts of racket and floating towards her. Turns out it's the ghost of her dead mother who merely wants to warn the girl. "Beware of the Crimson Peak," she tells the child. Fast forward to 1901. The girl, Edith (Wasikowska) is still living with her very rich and important dad Carter (Beaver) and hopes to become an author. She meets Thomas (Hiddleston), a Brit who is in the States with his sister Lucille (Chastain) trying to raise money for what he says will be a revolutionary clay mining invention. As part of his plan to get into dad's pockets, he puts the moves on Edith who falls for him. Dad sniffs out the game and pays Thomas off to leave his little girl alone, clear out of town, and take his creepy sister with him. Edith is none too pleased, thinking Thomas is suddenly breaking up with her because he's a sick. Next thing you know, dad turns up brutally murdered by some mystery person. Thomas can't bear to be without Edith, so he returns and marries the girl. He then whisks her away to England and moves her into the dilapidated mansion he shares with Lucille named...say it with me...Crimson Peak. Things going bump in the night while Thomas and Lucille act all weird and discreet ensues.
Problems mount early and the film never really overcomes them. Chief among its issues is predictability. It telegraphs everything miles in advance. Whenever some important piece of info was revealed it was never a surprise, but a mere confirmation of what I already thought. We just plod along hitting all the familiar beats right on cue. The movie's economy of characters doesn't help matters. There is a very finite number of suspects for any given occurrence. The cast is game and does all it can to overcome a script that never really shields their motivations. Hiddleston and Chastain both play their roles to the hilt with Chastain, in particular, chewing up large quantities of scenery. Wasikowska gives us her best bewildered woman. None of them transcends the quality of the screenplay. The only performer who threatens to is Jim Beaver in the role of Edith's dad. He commands the screen with a wonderful gruffness. Unfortunately, as I've already mentioned, he's not in it long.
Director Guillermo del Toro and his minions in the cgi department work overtime on the visuals to combat the lack of narrative oomph. All sorts of apparitions float across the screen at various levels of gruesomeness. Unfortunately, they have the same issue as the ghosts in the original Insidious. They're benign creatures we never believe will really harm our protagonist. This renders them interesting to look at, but not so interesting to watch. They hiss, sneer, and look mighty spooky as they slither and slink about. Sadly, that's about it. Like everything else, their purpose becomes clear long before the movie wants to reveal it. Other things in film just beg the question 'why?' The biggest of these is the mansion itself. Being run down is one thing, this has a giant hole in the roof right over the entry of the house. Del Toro makes sure to train the camera on things falling gracefully through this hole such as snow and dust. I'm sure it's meant to symbolize something. However, it comes across as one in a long line of things that scream "Look at me, I'm creepy!" There are so many of these things populating the film that Crimson Peak spends almost its entire runtime trying to generate tension and dread, yet failing at both.
To this point, I know its seems I've got my giant mallet out and am repeatedly bashing this film. It's not really a bad film. It's actually not terrible to watch. It's just not all it so obviously wants to be. It fancies itself the next great haunted house flick and makes a Herculean effort to become this. It does many of things the classics do and even has a better cast than most of them. The pieces are all in place to be one of those wonderfully dark, atmospheric affairs that reaches deep into our soul to give it a good rattle. Those films stun us into momentary submission, make us leery of what's around the corner inside our own homes, and occasionally, leave indelible marks on our psyche. Some try really hard to do those things, but can't quite pull off the trick. Unfortunately, Crimson Peak falls into this latter category. It looks really good and has all the same parts as the great ones, it just doesn't assemble them in quite the same manner.
31 Days of Horror Update: If anyone noticed, I actually missed yesterday and posted nothing for Day 9 of 31 Days of Horror. For this, I'm blaming my buddy Matthew. In case you don't know who that is, you might know him better as Hurricane Matthew. He blew through this part of the country and wreaked a bit of havoc. I did not suffer nearly as much as some people, however, I was without power beginning Saturday evening and remained that way until fairly late Sunday night. In a normal October, I'm working enough days ahead to not be affected by such things, but that's not the case this year. Somewhere, I'll try to get in a makeup post. Thoughts and prayers go out to those who are still dealing with the aftermath of the storm.