Crimson Peaks

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When I heard that Guillermo Del Toro–director of such masterworks of dark fantasy as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone–was making a new Ghost film, I was absolutely pumped! I mean, if there’s anyone out there who knows how to make a monster movie, it’s him. The level of detail that goes into his sets, costumes, and especially his creature designs, is amazing. Aesthetics are of the utmost importance in horror films, since much of the tension and fear derives from the atmosphere and environment being created, and Del Toro’s visuals are always immaculate. So, yeah, when it comes to horror, he can do no wrong…

…except for when he can’t.

See, in recent years, Del Toro has been making movies that are just as visually striking as ever, but somewhat lacking in emotional depth, or complexity of plot. Take Pacific Rim, his most recent picture. It’s a movie about giant, man-driven robots, which fight giant, man-eating monsters. Yeah, it’s as stupid as it sounds, and it’s made all the worse by the fact that this obvious B-movie had an enormous budget, and several extremely talented actors in it–such as Academy Award-nominee Rinko Kickuchi, and Golden Globe-winner Idris Elba–who didn’t really have much to do. Now, don’t get me wrong, Pacific Rim is a lot of fun to watch–it’s giant robots punching monster’s in the face; how can you not be entertained?–but it just doesn’t have the emotional heft or engaging narrative of his earlier works. That’s why, after I came down from my initial excitement, I was a little bit skeptical of his new project, Crimson Peaks. I knew that it would look gorgeous–that was obvious. What I didn’t know was if it would be more like Pan’s Labyrinth, a touching, narratively-engaging fantasy–or Pacific Rim–a two hour boxing match between Optimus Prime and Godzilla.

Well, having seen the movie for myself, I can tell you right now that it’s actually like both of them at once. Stylistically, Crimson Peaks is very close to Pan’s Labyrinth, lots of big arches, dark shadows, period costumes, and weird, supernatural monsters. Narratively, however, it’s not that far off from Pacific Rim, in that there isn’t much character development, and the plot is rather simple. Basically, it’s the story of this young writer (Mia Wasikowska) who marries this guy (Tom Hiddleston) and moves in with him and his sister (Jessica Chastain) to their really old, really creepy house. And, as you might expect, things start going bump in the night, and Mia embarks on a quest to solve the mystery that’s surrounding the place. The problem is, for a horror film, it’s not really that frightening. It’s actually kind of boring in places. And, for a movie that’s marketed as this creepy, supernatural thriller, the ghosts don’t play that big a part in the picture, and if you really stop and think about it, aren’t really necessary to the plot at all. You could just as easily tell this same story of a young bride uncovering some disturbing facts about her new husband WITHOUT the monsters. Why? Because the ghosts don’t really do anything. They don’t directly tell her anything useful. They just kind of float around, point at stuff, and hiss cryptically. On top of that, some of the dialogue is really corny. There’s this one scene in the movie where Mia has just seen ghosts. She’s really frightened, and really shaken. She tells her husband about it, and what does he say? “Don’t worry. Tomorrow, we’ll go to the post office.” WHAT? What does that have to do with anything? She just told you she saw ghosts. How is going to the post office going to solve anything?

(Sigh.)

But, in the end, I wouldn’t write Crimson Peaks off as a bad film. Yeah, it’s kind of boring. Yeah, it’s a ghost story where the ghost don’t really do anything useful. But, at the same time, you can’t help but admire the enormous amount of effort that went into the costumes, sets, and visuals of this picture. And even though the characters in the film aren’t great, the actors playing them still do their best and deliver fine performances. So, it might not be perfect, but it’s still a watchable 6.5 out of 10. If you’re wanting to give yourself a great visual treat for Halloween, this might be the thing you’re looking for.

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