Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak was written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro. It was directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Robbins previously wrote the screenplays for Mimic, *batteries not included and Dragonslayer (both of which he also directed), Corvette Summer and MacArthur. He and del Toro also co-wrote the remake of Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark.

Del Toro is a favorite among fandom, and directed Mimic, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan's Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim.

I was very much looking forward to this film, as I'm a fan of del Toro's work and the trailer I saw promised an old fashioned Hammer Studios-style horror film. Unfortunately the trailer is a filthy liar, because this is absolutely, positively NOT a horror film. It's an old school Gothic romance with a couple of ghosts tossed half-heartedly into the mix. Del Toro himself even stated in an interview that this is not a horror movie. So why'd he let the trailers sell it as one?

Sadly this deliberate deceit left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like I was tricked into seeing a film I normally wouldn't have bothered with. I'm betting I'm not the only one who'll resent being misled by the trailer, and it's going to end up biting the filmmakers in the ass. The less-than-impressive box office seems to agree with me.

It's well-made, moody and features amazing costumes and production design, but it emphasizes style over any kind of substance. The plot, such as it is, is paper thin, and if you've ever seen even one movie before, you'll spot the "shocking twist" coming down the street from a mile away.

It doesn't help matters that the film isn't the least bit scary either. On the rare occasion we actually do get to see a ghost, they turn out to be helpful and protective rather than menacing! Jesus, if I want to see friendly ghosts I'll cue up a Casper cartoon.


The Plot:
As the film opens, young Edith Cushing is visited by the ghost of her mother, who croaks a cryptic warning: "Beware of Crimson Peak." Too bad the audience didn't heed her words.

Fourteen years later, Edith (played by Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer living in Buffalo, who's more interested in penning tales of ghosts than love stories. An English nobleman named Sir Thomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston) visits Edith's father Carter, a wealthy industrialist. Thomas is seeking funding for his clay mining machine. Edith is smitten with Thomas, but her father doesn't trust him and rejects his invention. Edith's friend and suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (played by Charlie Hunnam) doesn't care for Thomas either. Edith is visited again by her ghost mom, who again warns her of "Crimson Peak."

Edith and Thomas become romantically involved, much to the disapproval of Carter. He hires a private eye to investigate Thomas and his sister Lucille (played by Jessica Chastain). The detective discovers that Sir Thomas is already married, along with shocking details about his relationship with his sister (gosh, I wonder what that could be?). Carter bribes the Sharpe siblings into leaving Buffalo forever. Shortly after Carter is brutally murdered (gosh, I wonder who could have done that?). Thomas then monies, er, MARRIES Edith and whisks her off to England.

He takes her to Allerdale Hall, the family home of the Sharpes. The manor is a crumbling and rotting edifice that's slowly sinking into the red clay of the estate. Edith begins seeing terrifying ghosts in the manor, but of course no one believes her. Lucille begins slowly poisoning Edith's tea, weakening her. As winter approaches, Thomas mentions the surrounding clay turns the snow red, giving the manor the nickname "Crimson Peak." Say, haven't we heard that name somewhere before?

Edith snoops around the house and discovers that Thomas was previously married to three other wealthy women, all of whom died mysteriously. She also finds out to absolutely no one's surprise that he and Lucille are in an incestuous relationship, and have been since they were children. Lucille even murdered their mother when she found out the truth about her no-good children.

Meanwhile, Dr. McMichael investigates the Sharpe siblings and comes to the same conclusion. He travels to England (very quickly for the 1900s, I might add— maybe he teleported?) and arrives at Allerdale Hall to rescue Edith. Lucille stabs him, and Thomas seemingly finishes him off. Lucille, jealous that Thomas has chosen Edith over her, murders him. She and Edith then have an epic battle inside and outside the manor (despite the fact that Edith's supposedly weak and dying). When Lucille is distracted by Thomas' ghost, Edith kills her. She finds the still-conscious Dr. McMichael, and the two limp to safety. That's it!

• Like all of Guillermo del Toro's projects, this one looks incredible. The costumes and period details are all top notch. The centerpiece of the film is the vast and crumbling Allerdale Hall, which is almost a character in itself. It's just too bad that they didn't spend as much time and effort on the actual story.

• The heroine's name is Edith Cushing. I'm assuming that's a nod to frequent Hammer Studios horror star Peter Cushing?

• Every time we see a shot of the huge foyer of Allerdale Hall, dozens of leaves filter in through a massive hole in the roof. First of all, how hard could it be to patch up a roof? Maybe Thomas should take a bit of the money he's using on his clay digging machine and use it to by shingles. Secondly, at the rate the leaves pour in, there should have been twenty foot pile in the middle of the room.

Thirdly, where the bloody hell are the leaves coming from? Every exterior shot of the mansion shows the surrounding area to be bare and devoid of life. There's not a single tree anywhere near the house. Style over substance!

On a related note: later on Edith snoops around in the basement, which contains rows of large cisterns full of red clay. Snow falls through several holes in the ceiling. How the hell's that happening? How is snow falling into the basement? Are the holes in the basement ceiling lined up with holes in the roof several stories above?

I can just see del Toro on the set, yelling, "I don't care if it doesn't make sense, I said more snow in the basement!"

• The ghost in the film were all suitably creepy and very well done. It's just too bad that their combined screen time added up to less than five minutes (in a 119 minute film).

• Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Stone were originally cast as Thomas and Edith, but both dropped out of the production. Smart people! They must have got a good look at the script.

• This is a very weirdly structured movie. The characters don't even leave New York and get to the titular haunted mansion in England until almost halfway through the film. 

You could delete the entire first half of the film and it wouldn't harm the plot one bit. It should have started with Edith's arrival at Allerdale Hall, not with her childhood and life in New York.

• The movie features members of del Toro's little repertory actor group, including Charlie Hunnam and Burn Gorman (both of whom were in Pacific Rim). Doug Jones is also in the film, and has been in pretty much everything del Toro's every directed.

• Take a good look at that movie poster. See how it says, "From the visionary director of Pan's Labyrinth?" That's starting to become a red flag word. Whenever I see a director described as "visionary," it means his movies look good, but that's all they've got going for them.

• For the past ten years or so, every movie in the cineplex has featured the exact same "orange and teal" color scheme. You see it over and over in every film-- orange faces contrasted against teal-tinted backgrounds.

Nowhere is that style more evident than in Crimson Peak. Virtually every single scene is awash with orange and teal. So much so that after a while it became laughable. I was looking at the color scheme instead of paying attention to the film.

• Most so-called "horror" films today are watered down so they'll get a PG-13 rating, so I was excited to see that this one was actually rated R.

Unfortunately I'm having a hard time understanding why. There're a few brief scenes of gore, but nothing worse than you'd see every week on The Walking Dead. So why the R rating? Is it because fans of Gothic romances won't be expecting it, and will be taken aback by the violence?

Crimson Peak squanders its considerable potential by emphasizing style over substance and giving us a simplistic plot with a twist you can see coming from a mile off. Don't be misled by the trailer, which sells it as a horror film instead of a gothic romance. I give it a C+.

1 comment:

  1. Guillermo del Toro stays true 100% to his vision even though the script could've been better.


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