Crimson Peak (Universal Pictures, R)

CrimsonPeak 75I wasn’t really into it at all for the first 90 minutes, but the final 30 or so at least come close to making the whole thing worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

CrimsonPeak 500

You see a gothic-looking movie starring people like Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain, who do you guess made it? Tim Burton, right? Nope, the director of the new film Crimson Peak, starring those three actors (and mercifully no Helena Bonham Carter), is none other than international auteur Guillermo del Toro, whose masterpiece to date is 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and who has shown that he is capable of making good films both inside of the Hollywood system (Pacific Rim, the Hellboy movies) and outside of it (The Devil’s Backbone).

But as you watch Crimson Peak, it in some ways plays like if Burton had directed a version of The Shining. Now from me that probably sounds like an insult, as I have virtually no respect whatsoever of the Tim Burton of the past 20 years, but in del Toro’s hands a Burton-does-Kubrick-doing-King-type film is better than if Burton himself had actually done it.

In the interest of digging out of this “this thing seems like this thing and this other thing” hole I’m digging myself into, let’s talk about the plot. Crimson Peak centers on Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), a young woman of good heritage, who falls for a maybe-suspicious new guy to town, Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), who is rarely seen without his intimidating sister, Lucille (Chastain), by his side. Edith lost her mother at a young age and sees her as a ghost, and to a certain extent she bonds with the Sharpe’s over their similarly losing their mother. (The Sharpe matriarch is, I think, the woman in room 237.) Edith’s seeing of ghosts is exacerbated when the Sharpes succeed in wooing her into coming to live in their big, creepy house, which is sinking into the ground, and gives the movie its name: the ground it’s sinking into, and which comes up through the floorboards, is basically a heap of red clay.

One puzzling thing about Crimson Peak, apart from its tendency to Blue Velvet into bugs for no immediately clear reason, is the presence of Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) among the main cast, in the Scatman Crothers role—he has neither the acting ability nor borne-in gothic look of the three principles. But del Toro’s puzzling loyalty to him as an actor aside (Hunnam also appeared in Pacific Rim), he (del Toro) has proven once again to be the only director capable of pulling a good performance out of him, especially if very little is required of the role he’s cast in.

And really, I’ve long been half-and-half on Wasikowska and Hiddleston. Sometimes I like them (Maps to the Stars, Only Lovers Left Alive) and sometimes I don’t (Alice in Wonderland, Thor). Chastain is reliably great, though, and again she is the best thing about Crimson Peak. That and the film’s climax—I wasn’t really into it at all for the first 90 minutes, but the final 30 or so at least come close to making the whole thing worthwhile.

Which mechanic reminds me of another time Wasikowska acted in a film by a director of great international renown—in 2013’s Stoker, directed by Chan-wook Park. Again, that film was boring up until its ending, but the final five minutes of the film almost made it worth seeing. It’s not something one wants to build a career on, but there are worse things a young actress can do than work with major directors making minor films. | Pete Timmermann

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