Crimson Peak (2015)
Crimson Peak will, fairly or unfairly, be judged on what it isn’t rather than what it is. It’s ambitious in that it isn’t the type of horror film typically trotted out this time of year that cost $200,000 and makes back $20 million.
And yet the Guillermo Del Toro product lacks true ambition; the kind of ambition that leads to greatness. Crimson Peak is consistently spooky, at times startling and occasionally very compelling. The performances from its leads are splendid and the set dressing puts to shame that of any film I’ve seen in a long, long time.
Qualms with things left unexplained will come but don’t lie at the heart of the issues with Crimson Peak. It’s a film that doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, whether this comes from a meddlesome studio or a muddled script, we’ll likely never know.
We’re whisked away to a cold, unforgiving house that begs to be explored. Mia Wasikowska, god bless her, tries, but the secrets at Crimson Peak aren’t quite as interesting or quite as secret as we’d like them to be. Too often we’re shuttled back to Buffalo to see what Charlie Hunnam is up to; too often we’re fed the clues before Wasikowska.
The journey to Crimson Peak is one we should share with our lead, but we’re treated to spoiler after spoiler and obvious clue after obvious clue. There aren’t enough surprises in Crimson Peak, not because they don’t exist, but because Del Toro insists on giving them to us before Wasikowska. Instead of building suspense (which I assume is the stated goal) we’re instead robbed of surprise.
Crimson Peak’s ghosts are strange and beautiful — in other words, a perfect fit in a Del Toro film. Yet they’re startlingly straightforward and their lack of malice, while different and interesting, is not fleshed out to the point where it proves useful for moving the story along.
It would be unfair to Crimson Peak to call it all style and no substance, but the balance is so firmly waited towards style that the bits of substance can often be lost in the shuffle. The film resembles an incredibly well dressed person who makes a delightful first impression before turning out to be perfectly ordinary.
There’s nothing wrong with ordinary, but with Crimson Peak we really could have used extraordinary.