Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde, Bruce Gray, Emily Coutts
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language
Running Time: 119
Date: 10/16/2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Crimson Peak is a grand return to form for the great Mexican-born director Guillermo Del Toro.

His previous film, the nifty giant monster vs. giant robot story Pacific Rim didn't show much of his signature style.

But Crimson Peak offers a peek inside his insidious imagination, a gothic ghost house so overwhelming it permeates everything.

And yet, the movie feels fairly lightweight, like swirls of dead leaves drifting through a foyer.

Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, a would-be writer of ghost stories ("the ghosts are a metaphor"), living in New York sometime around the turn of the century.

Good-hearted ophthalmologist Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) loves her, but her attention is drawn to the haunted eyes of Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who can dance a waltz without extinguishing a candle clasped in their hands together.

Thomas is trying to raise money to mine the weird red clay on his property in England, and wishes Edith's father, Carter (Jim Beaver), to invest, but Carter does not like Thomas.

But when her father dies, Edith chooses to marry Thomas. She moves to England with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

The Sharpe family mansion is an awesome, awful place, peppered with black butterflies, creaky, groaning noises, red gunk seeping through the floors, rooms you're not supposed to go into, and ghosts.

The ghosts, with hideous, distorted faces and limbs, are, of course, trying to right some long-standing wrong. Edith, in her puffy nightgown shaped like a marshmallow man, tries to solve the mystery.

Based, no doubt, on a handful of Del Toro's favorite dark romance movies ( Rebecca, Gaslight, Notorious, etc.) and novels (the movie mentions Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and Arthur Conan Doyle by name), the movie feels more like a tribute to a bygone era of storytelling than it does anything plumbed from the flimmaker's soul.

It's no Pan's Labyrinth then, but it is as intricately, astoundingly designed and as entertaining as its follow-up, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

Most of the lighting in Crimson Peak draws out the color red, or else highlights streaks of black and white. (The blood-colored mud seeps into footprints in the snow.)

Even Chastain's red hair is colored black here, perhaps because it wasn't the correct shade. It's possible Del Toro was trying to say something with these choices, but it's also possible that they simply looked cool.

It's a satisfying howl, to be sure, but Crimson Peak could have been more. Del Toro has dug a little deeper into his bag of tricks here, but this is a director capable of true depth.

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