Guillermo goes gothic in this new mystery tale starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston.
Set around the turn of the 20th century, Crimson Peak is not a sequel to submarine movie Crimson Tide – though Guillermo del Toro’s ongoing process of dumbing-down may leave some fans with a sinking feeling.
The story follows a young American girl named Edith (Wasikowska), who meets English aristocrats Thomas (Hiddleston) and Lucille (Chastain), AKA the Sharpe siblings – not to be confused with the Pointer Sisters.
Edith and Thomas fall in love and get married, moving to the Sharpes’ dilapidated mansion in Cumbria, complete with ghosts, red clay seeping through the floorboards and a gaping hole in the roof – like all houses in Cumbria.
Soon, Edith starts to uncover the Sharpes’ secrets, just like the clay mining contraption that sits in the shadow of the house, dredging up the past, caked in crimson.
Crimson Peak looks incredible – it’s Guillermo del Toro, after all. Striking splashes of scarlet are set against inky black shadows; sumptuous gothic costumes hang from handsome figures; fluid, ethereal nightmares float through the creaking, crumbling house. Let’s call it Marilyn Mansion.
Such a lavish production design is reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dreckula, right down to the English character who can’t do a English accent – though Jessica Chastain isn’t nearly as bad as Keanu Reeves. “I’m in Transylvania, dude!”
But the rest of the cast are strong; Mia Wasikowska reprises her accomplished Victorian-girl act, while Tom Hiddleston out-Depps Johnny. And his name, Thomas, is shouted more times than an episode of Tom and Jerry.
Del Toro is seeped in fairytales, horror and all things gothic; the film namechecks Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle and Peter Cushing – though the biggest influence is, annoyingly, Tim Burton.
For all its eye-popping visuals and gothic homage, Crimson Peak is narratively underwhelming. The mystery at the film’s heart is disappointing, with a distinct lack of suspense. Every plot development is signposted, spelled out and drilled home like a knife to the cheek.
There’s none of the psychological subtlety of the del Toro-produced The Orphanage – just predictable melodrama. While engaging, entertaining and visually resplendent, Crimson Peak lacks the element of surprise. Perhaps it fell through the massive hole in the roof.