‘Crimson Peak’ is frighteningly terrible

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This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

The film “Crimson Peak” is a gothic horror tale about young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland”), a spunky and determined writer who has seen ghosts since childhood. Despite her reservations about romance, Edith is instantly taken with dashing baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, “The Avengers”) and quickly becomes his bride. He whisks her away to his decrepit English estate where he lives in solitude with his sinister sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, “The Martian”) and before long, the spirits of the house come to life and threaten to expose the dark secrets behind Edith’s spooky new family.

If this all sounds incredibly corny, that’s because it is. Corny plots aren’t inherently bad, especially when it comes to old-fashioned horror, but “Crimson Peak” takes cheesiness to an uncomfortable level. This becomes apparent within the first 20 minutes of the film, in which the dialogue is god-awful, the acting is embarrassing and the editing is distractingly silly. Again, this all could be an effective set-up for the change in tone, but all it ends up creating is an awkward opening for what is ultimately a ghastly film.

That being said, there are a few small diamonds in the rough. Chastain is excellent as usual, creating a character that is so convincingly unhinged that it’s impossible not to squirm whenever she’s on screen. She and Wasikowska are the main players while the male roles are mostly pushed aside into being objects for the plot, which is an admittedly refreshing change in a genre where women are mostly cannon fodder.

The biggest triumph of the film, however, is its striking style. Director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) has always been a master of atmosphere, and he skillfully creates a hauntingly beautiful yet discomforting haunted house. Red clay from underneath the grounds of the estate oozes through the walls like blood, the exposed ceiling makes snow and leaves trickle into the main hall and the dark corners of the manor look downright otherworldly. It’s rather spectacular, which makes it that much more disappointing that just about every other element of the film is so bland.

On the much less than spectacular side of things, Wasikowska does bring some much-needed humanity to her character, but still mostly falls flat in comparison to Chastain. She has some effective moments, but for the most part she mindlessly follows the plot the best she can. The male roles are easily the worst part of the film, particularly a completely pointless and laughable role from Charlie Hunnam (“Pacific Rim”) as Edith’s childhood admirer that has the eyes rolling every time he shows up.

Speaking of rolling eyes, the plot is so predictable and ridiculous that it’s almost impossible not to groan every time a major event takes place. It’s surprising that del Toro, usually just as good of a storyteller as he is visualizer, has created a tale that is so embarrassingly inept. Despite its intentions to pay tribute to the classic horror films of old, “Crimson Peak” is, in the end, nothing more than a hollow imitation.

Ryan Ninesling