Hor­ror of hor­rors, this fails to chill the spine

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

Crim­son Peak (M) ★ 1/2 Na­tional re­lease

Mex­i­can di­rec­tor Guillermo del Toro likes his ghost sto­ries and fairy­tales. Per­haps his best­known films re­main the Span­ish lan­guage Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Devil’s Back­bone (2001), dark fan­tasy-hor­ror sto­ries in­formed by the ter­rors of the Span­ish Civil War. It will come as no sur­prise then to learn he wrote the first script for his new film, the gothic hor­ror Crim

son Peak, soon af­ter Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s taken him a while to bring it to the screen, with other projects in­ter­ven­ing, in­clud­ing the quite pass­able sci-fi mon­sters ver­sus robots block­buster Pa­cific Rim (2013).

Del Toro has said of Crim­son Peak that he wanted to make an old-fash­ioned haunt­ed­house film such as the ones he watched in his youth, cit­ing The Omen, The Ami­tyville Hor­ror and “the Ever­est of haunted-house movies”, Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, Crim­son Peak is not even in the foothills. It’s main prob­lem is it just isn’t scary, even with some neat tributes to those three seat-jumpers the di­rec­tor loved as a boy. M. Night Shya­malan’s The Visit is a much scarier op­tion for the Hal­loween tar­get au­di­ence.

The Visit is also much fun­nier, and that’s another missed op­por­tu­nity with del Toro’s film: the cast seems to take it far too se­ri­ously. The set-up — a di­lap­i­dated man­sion in freez­ing north­ern Eng­land, moths in the kitchen and grim por­traits on the walls, the creepy brother and sis­ter who live in it, the Amer­i­can heiress who moves in af­ter fall­ing for the brother — lends it­self to a bit of melo­dra­matic hu­mour, but there is al­most none. It’s all so earnest and, as a re­sult, pre­pos­ter­ous.

Another prob­lem is one of split per­son­al­ity, which would be fine if this was Sy­bil, but it’s not. It’s as though del Toro was torn be­tween mak­ing a lush Vic­to­rian drama and a mod­ern hor­ror tale and de­cided to kill two ravens with one stone by join­ing the two to­gether. As with Vic­tor Franken­stein’s cre­ation, the stitches show.

This schizophre­nia starts with the name of our Amer­i­can hero­ine: Edith Cush­ing (Aus­tralian ac­tress Mia Wasikowska). The first and best half of the film is set in up­state New York amid the pros­per­ous en­tre­pre­neur­ial classes of the early 20th cen­tury. In its faith­ful recre­ation of pe­riod de­tail it is at times rem­i­nis­cent of Martin Scors­ese’s mas­ter­ful 1993 adap­ta­tion of Edith Whar­ton’s novel The Age of In­no­cence. Del Toro, Dan­ish cin­e­matog­ra­pher Dan Laust­sen and the cos­tume and set-de­sign peo­ple do a mar­vel­lous job in this re­spect — in­deed I wish the film had been con­tained to this arch and glam­orous world.

But we are set to leave it be­hind when mi­nor English aris­to­crat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hid­dle­ston, who bears a re­sem­blance to the young Peter Cush­ing) turns up, seek­ing Amer­i­can back­ing for his fail­ing busi­ness back home. He woos Edith, a beau­ti­ful and se­ri­ous young woman who wants to be a nov­el­ist, Mary Shel­ley be­ing her role model. Thomas’s for­bid­ding sis­ter Lu­cille (Jes­sica Chas­tain) looks on icily. Edith’s pow­er­ful, wealthy fa­ther Carter (Jim Beaver) ob­jects but, for rea­sons best left to the au­di­ence to dis­cover, he for once doesn’t have his own way. Hand­some doc­tor Alan McMichael (Char­lie Hun­nam, no Son of An­ar­chy here), in love with Edith, looks on hap­lessly.

The sec­ond half of the film, the ghost story part, un­folds in Thomas’s creak­ing man­sion. The ti­tle refers to the blood-red clay of the hilly ter­rain on which the prop­erty lies, the nat­u­ral re­source Thomas mines to make bricks and tiles. It is only on see­ing this land­scape that Edith makes some sense of a warn­ing is­sued from be­yond the grave by her mother: Be­ware Crim­son Peak. Yet fur­ther proof that one should al­ways lis­ten to one’s mater.

And so things go bump in the night, ap­pari­tions ap­pear, the house seems to take on malev­o­lent life and so on. But the real evil here is hu­man, as so of­ten is the case. Any­one half-awake will see all the twists com­ing, es­pe­cially the real na­ture of Thomas and Lu­cille’s re­la­tion­ship, the way Viv Richards used to see a cricket ball: very early. That leaves you with only the po­ten­tial thrill of the good ver­sus evil life-and-death ac­tion, but de­spite a pre­pon­der­ance of knives, cleavers and other sharp ob­jects, it just doesn’t cut it.

Mia Wasikowska en­coun­ters a spot of un­pleas­ant­ness in Crim­son Peak

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