Beware Crimson Peak (for real)

Crimson Peak

Tea: Moroccan Mint

What better way to get into the Halloween mood than a dark gothic romance, am I right? Crimson Peak is promising to be just that, directed by Guillermo Del Toro and with Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska in the leading roles this big-budget Hollywood flick sounds rather promising. But is Crimson Peak the visual and emotional ride it promises to be or does it end up as a cheap haunted house ride at the carnival.

The story premise is easily explained: Edith is a young author and wants to step into the shoes of such great women as Mary Shelly and thus writes a story with a ghost in it (explicitly not a ghost story), but since it lacks the romance it gets rejected. Around the same time a man named Thomas Sharpe shows up in her life and via a few rather badly indicated time-jumps the two of them fall for each other. Much to the displeasure of her father who has made some inquiries into Thomas and his sister Lucille’s past that has brought up some rather unpleasant facts, not that the viewer is told these, since suspense must be kept up somehow. After a very dramatic break-up and reunion Thomas takes Edith with him to England to his crumbling home that bears the nickname Crimson Peak as it stands on red peat and colours the snow crimson during the winter. So much for the story without giving too much away.

crimson-peak-5-970x546-c– Really nice set-design as you can see here –

First off the good parts: This movie is really well acted, everybody does a great job portraying his character. Edith is convincing enough as slightly independent woman with the inquisitive nature. Tom Hiddleston also delivers a great performance that wanders the line between loving and eerie. Jessica Chastain is great as the menacing sister Lucille in most moments, even though she goes a bit too far in one of the later scenes and thus gives it a touch of the ridiculous, but overall the performances hold up rather well. The set-design is equally marvellous with the titular house being an impressive scenery for the story to play out. Yet, some aspects of the interior design are too strongly catered towards the horror-aspects and thus lose all their sense in the overarching picture. It’s the same thing as Five Nights at Freddy’s, once something is specifically designed to be scary and part of a normal environment at the same time it loses its credibility as an object of fear. What else did I like, let me see… well, done so far to be honest. Let’s take this movie apart bit by bit.

hallway-720x340– That is what normal hallways look like: with long protruding metal spikes. –

The first thing that upset me was the dialogue: God lord has it been long since I have heard dialogue this awkward. The interaction between a lot of characters does not feel like genuine conversations at all, but more like “somebody wrote this so I have to act it now and make the best of it”. The worst example is very early on when Edith meets Thomas for the first time and he picks up her manuscript, not only is he convinced that it must be good from just looking at the first line, but their dialogue resembles an Amazon Review rather than an honest interaction “I think this is good.” – Thank you for the fact that you think it is good”. It does get better later on, but the Damocles sword of awkward dialogue hangs over the entire experience and comes crashing down in the final moments that resemble a Looney Toons cartoon.

Actually the genre is an interesting question: Del Toro himself said that it is not a horror movie (I’ll get to that later), so I am left to assume that it is a romance (?). By the way, good job not understanding your own joke about every work of fiction requiring a romance subplot and then inserting a half-hearted romance into your work. If I had to put down a genre it would be camp. Nothing else makes sense, since the movie sometimes glaringly misses the tone it was going for and ends up creating a parody of the scene it was supposedly intended to create. Some aspects are so over-stylized in this movie that it has a hard time keeping up a serious face. For instance: The house is falling apart and standing on top of the red peat. Now this house can fall apart for ages, since in the main hall there is bits of paint and wallpaper raining down like autumn leaves, but they must have started falling long before, so I am just left to assume that this house has an infinite source of crumbling wallpaper to rain down. To add to that the red peat is slowly dripping down the walls in a later scene (obviously resembling blood), but where it is coming from makes no sense, since the source is somehow above ground level and dripping downwards. Sure, it looks nice, but aside from that it takes me out of the movie to have such striking inconsistencies. Speaking off, there are a number of amateur editing mistakes where people appear next to other persons, since two footages have been combined and apparently nobody noticed this during post-production.

rs_1024x759-150713164046-1024-Crimson-peak-hiddleson-WASIKOWSKA_copy– Possible saving grace: This movie contains 2 seconds of Tom Hiddleston’s butt –

So as stated earlier Del Toro went on record and said that this movie was not a horror movie and after seeing it I can agree: there is nothing remotely scary in that movie, what is there, however, is a load of cheap and overused jump scares. Let’s not dwell on the fact that there are jump scares in a move that is not supposed to be horror and take a closer look at them. Aside from being one of the annoying feature of any horror movie they are especially bad in this one. Usually it works like this: loud short noise accompanied by sudden image. Now, in this move they work like this: Loud noise that stays loud for very long and a movement or image that bears no connection to the sound in any way. These loud noises really start to hurt in your ears as he shoves jump scare after jump scare down your throat. The worst part is you can see them coming from a mile away as they are telegraphed in the same manner every single time, but you cannot brace yourself against the audio-torture that is about to come. The worst part is that there is actually a scene I would have liked: A shadowy figure that is barely noticeable walks through the back of the room. A subtle scene and maybe only visible to some or upon repeated watchings, but Del Toro has to put a bloody screeching sound over it to make sure you notice his overused trope and total lack of subtlety. Thanks mate, I got it already.

demon-ghost-from-crimson-peak-2015– Remember: Not a horror movie. This ghost is here for the romance –

An aspect I don’t really feel comfortable criticizing is the supernatural element, simply because the trailer and certain lines of dialogue implied that there would be a more mystical aspects to the house and the brother and sister than there was in the end. So that aspects ended up disappointing me, but maybe I was just expecting something else. Which would be fine, but seeing the story as a whole it is not only very generic, stale, and uninspired, but also really badly executed. There is ’twist’, but I hesitate to call it such, since it is more of a light-reveal that is obvious from a particular moment onward. Yet, the movie spends a lot of time accompanying Edith to find out what the viewer was already told. I consequently don’t feel connected to her, but want her to hurry up to get to something more interesting, something that I might not already know. There is a considerable amount of build-up to a reveal that ends up feeling lacklustre and sort of out of place. Adding to this are aspects of the story that just never go anywhere. They get introduced and filled up with a respectable amount of importance, only to be ditched in the final act. Scenery is inscribed with a purpose that should be revealed later on, but later it is still just scenery with all that meaning vaporized in the waking of the movie’s anticlimactic way of resolving the plot.

And there is the elephant in the room that is the ghosts in this movie. Del Toro is known for having a quite imaginative creature design that I won’t deny. He is also known for handling a writing job like a shotgun loaded with pencils and fired at a wall, but let’s not dwell on this. The ghost design is quite nicely presented, but overall seems inconsistent. There appears to be some colour-coding going but – without spoiling it – it is really inconsistent. Their behaviour also makes little sense given the bigger events occurring and thus the overused jump scares are even more robbed of any place in this movie. But there are some rather nice shots of the ghost, the best one being really late in the movie. In fact, there are a number of nice shots in the movie, a particularly impressive one involving Tom Hiddleston in an open door. But compared to all the lacking and misplaced shots throughout the rest of the movie I must now assume that these good ones just happened by pure accident when Del Toro wasn’t looking.

I7– Very nice ghost moment nice mostly because it lacks the obnoxious jump scare music –

I can only repeat that the art of horror lies in subtlety and I feel stupid for believing that this movie could achieve that after seeing the track record of the director. But still I wanted to give him a chance and ended up being disappointed. The acting is well done and the sets are nicely crafted. Everything else falls miles shorts of expectations and misses the own point rather drastically. Del Toro even shoves the interpretation of the ghost down your apparently uneducated throats in the first act, since he either wants to make sure his movie is understood the way he intended or has not much faith in the intellect of his viewers. Either way Crimson Peak is neither scary nor romantic it is a camp 2 hour trip of odd choices with the occasional moment of clarity. The weak ending cannot save this broken mess in any way. But worry not, by the end of the week I will introduce you to a truly scary experience that understands the essence of this most delicate genre that has been abused and trampled on by men like Del Toro.

Image sources in order of appearance:

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