(Guillermo Del Toro, 2015)
I have a problem with a group of filmmakers who often seem to put production design before storytelling. Oddly, all of them favour a sort of gothic "stylishness" in their work: elaborate sets, lush costumes and rich lighting combine with overripe narratives, bad dialogue and ostentatious camera motion. Tim Burton is perhaps the high priest of such cinema, joined on occasion by the likes of Terry Giliam. And sometimes Guillermo Del Toro.
Del Toro switches from the more action end of pulp (Hellboy I & II, Blade 2, Pacific Rim) to a more gothic, personal sensibility (The Devils Backbone, Pans Labyrinth) every few films, and in Crimson Peak he is - ever the synthesist - paying homage to Hammer and Mario Bava among others, with the story of a rich young woman, Edith (Mia Wasikowska, playing a dull character but still sympathetic) lured from her comfortable life in Buffalo NY by dashing, sensitive Sir Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston). HE woos her against her suspicious father's wishes, and when her father is mysteriously murdered, she marries Thomas and leaves America only to arrive in a sort of Gothic Disneyland in the form of his crumbling, spooky mansion in 'Cumberland". This he shares with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Of course there are strange goings-on at the mansion. Ghosts prowl the halls, the clay beneath is seeping up through the floor (the house itself seems to bleed), and Lucille and Thomas both act strangely.
Crimson Peak is not remotely the horror film it has been sold as. There are no real scares here; rather it is a gothic romance with some violence and thrills along the way. And while I find Del Toro's visual imagination pedestrian and predictable in this mode, this film is still ravishingly beautiful (credit to cinematographer Dan Lausten for that), and fun it its silly way.
The performers give it conviction. Charlie Hunnam (as the white knight set on rescuing Edith) and Hiddleston are both a little stiff and awkward but that suits the material. Chastain has a great time as Lucille, particularly in the last act, when truths are revealed and Del Toro can indulge himself.