Far from peak performances
He’s tackled vampires (Cronos), comic book heroes (Hellboy, Blade II) and giant robots (Pacific Rim) and now visionary Mexican director Guillermo del Toro turns his creative hands to the world of gothic horror for his ninth feature film.
We’re in supernatural spook-fest and haunted house territory as Mia Wasikowska’s (Edith) aspiring author is pulled into the lives of mysterious stranger Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and his troubled sister Lady Lucille Sharpe ( Jessica Chastain) at the turn of the 20th century.
Crimson Peak is a curious hybrid of old school “things that go bump in the night” scares and blood and gore closer associated to the legendary Grand Guignol stylings.
For his return to the horror genre, del Toro re-teams with his Mimic co-writer Matthew Robbins and the tone – if not the period setting – is similar to the del Toro-produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
Much like that flawed-but-fun 2010 release, it’s the production design and location that are the real stars of the show.
The Sharpe siblings’ colossal dilapidated mansion Allerdale Hall is up there with the very best haunted houses committed to screen: creeky staircases, dimly-lit rooms and blood-red colour flourishes from genre cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Silent Hill, Wind Chill) combining to send shivers down spines.
The spectral beings tormenting Edith once again see del Toro proving he is the master of mixing puppetry and practical effects with CGI trickery, bettering the rather sloppy looking sinister tooth fairies in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
Wasikowska continues her impressive body of work as her Cinderella-like heroine is pulled from pillar to post – both physically and emotionally – by human and supernatural irritants.
Somewhat surprisingly, her more experienced co-stars fare less well. Hiddleston works as a dashing Victorian gentleman but feels like he’s straight-jacketed by a restrictive role rather than getting to cut loose with maniacal glee, ala Loki.
Chastain broods but doesn’t convince as an ice-cold scorned sibling and she and Hiddleston aren’t helped by a so-called twist that is telegraphed so far in advance the pair would’ve been as well having it tattooed on their foreheads.
Charlie Hunnam comes and goes in a minor role unbefitting his talents and del Toro and Robbins’ attempts to shoehorn in romance falls short.
But when they stick to horror, the pair are on sounder footing, not least during a surprising, crazed climax.
For true Halloween scares, though, get under the covers and check out Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers at their original and best instead.
Ghostly goings-on Mia Wasikowska’s Edith feels the fear