Crimson Peak (2015)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 10/25/15
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

A visually rich romantic ghost story in the classic Hammer Studios tradition. In fact, it's eerily reminiscent of "The Woman In Black" (2012). Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring young writer, but no one will take her seriously because she's a woman. She is also sensitive to the spiritual energies of ghosts. When a mysterious young man from England named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) takes an interest in both Edith and her writing, romance quickly blooms. Together, they go back to England and live in Thomas's mansion, along with his psychotic sister Lucy (Jessica Chastain). But something is definitely not right in her new home... The mansion is old, cold, falling apart, and haunted by restless spirits. Edith soon falls ill and has numerous ghost encounters, all imploring her to leave the house before it's too late. Unfortunately, she learns the awful truth about the Sharpes before she can escape, and it's up to her childhood friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam) to come to her rescue.

As you would expect from director Guillermo del Toro, the film looks fantastic and is full of delightfully dark and creepy imagery. It's not particularly gory, but it does contain a handful of shockingly violent scenes. Unfortunately, it's a slow starter, the pacing is sluggish, and the story is uneven. More than anything, it feels like a collection of missed opportunities to make a really scary ghost story, but I don't think that was del Toro's aim. At its core, the film is a coming-of-age love story for Edith, and while the ghosts are certainly scary looking, they don't bear any ill will towards her. They're simply tortured souls seeking peace and justice. As is often the case, humans are the real monsters. The performances are superb, and Jessica Chastain's delivery as Lucille Sharpe is truly unnerving. She oozes evil and malcontent, and darkens every scene she's in. Excellent work. Mia Wasikowska is wonderful as the beautiful, intelligent, independent, and slightly naïve Edith, and she exudes a delightful sense of youthful innocence, charm, and wonder. She's also quite resourceful, and even though she's trapped in a horrific nightmare, she's far from helpless and won't give up without a fight. It's nice to see a female driven story with such strong and well defined characters. Tom Hiddleston also gives a strong performance as a dark stranger imbued with dangerous sensuality and a wicked smile, but hiding behind his sinister charm is a sad, desperate, and tortured soul. Only Charlie Hunnam comes across as overly flat, and he seems to have an uncanny ability to suck the life and energy out of all of his scenes. Thankfully, he has very little screen time, but he also introduces an intriguing plot device that is never fully developed. At one point, he shows Edith a camera that can photograph ghosts, which would have been an excellent tool to use later in the film, but that never happens. Overall, "Crimson Peak" is a mixed bag of engaging characters and brilliant visuals, bogged down by a slow and rough narrative.