Crimson Peak reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: Crimson Peak reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 06, 2015 11:34 pm

I like the idea of a new Gothic thriller/ghost story -- a throwback that shoots for spookiness rather than gore, done up with all the modern touches a medium-budget film can offer. So, on paper, I'm all for Crimson Peak.

But it'd have to be...well...better. I don't so much mind the story being lackadaisical, but, as BJ says, there's really not a major narrative surprise in the film. Everything feels telegraphed, and there are times in the film where you're ASSUMING there'll be some twist, but it never arrives. (Totally with you, BJ, on the reveal of who did the club bathroom killing.) Even something like the Tim Burton Sleepy Hollow, which was far from ingenious, managed to come up with a halfway decent, twisty mystery plot to support its extraordinary design scheme.

Would Crimson Peak had done the same, because it, like Sleepy Hollow, is pretty outstandingly designed. Even the Rochester sets are wonderfully quaint and eye-catching, but the Allerdale Hall house is just a knockout. If this were a better, more successful film, I think it'd be contending for production design. It might get nominated even as is.

The film, though...a major "eh".

The Original BJ
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Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

Re: Crimson Peak reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 19, 2015 3:06 am

I can't say I was that into this one. The design elements, certainly, are totally noteworthy -- that house is just a stellar piece of production design, with elements that are frightening, gorgeous, and delightfully ridiculous all at the same time.

But I thought the script fell way short. From the beginning, I thought there was quite a bit of on-the-nose dialogue, but as the movie went on, I really started to just be disappointed in the overall story. The writer in me (i.e. the person who works hard to try to come up with inventive storylines) is becoming increasingly annoyed with movies where I feel like there just aren't enough plot surprises to keep my interest. There's a moment when a murderer's identity is kept hidden from the audience, and then is exposed later, and my first reaction was...why did the movie even BOTHER keeping that a secret? Was that supposed to be any kind of surprise to us? And as for the big reveal, it felt totally ho-hum to me -- the movie had spent much of its running time suggesting this dynamic, so I don't know how the filmmakers expected me to be caught off guard when they just took what they'd set up to its logical end.

I don't think the actors even really seemed to capture the tone the movie was going for -- this was, in fact, the rare performance from Jessica Chastain that seemed off to me, an example of an actress without the vamp gene a little bit lost in a role that demanded it.

Del Toro does manage some frightening moments -- I thought the design of the ghost effects was pretty effective, both shocking and oddly beautiful in some cases -- but I think in order for it all to work it either needed to be a lot more grounded in a more compelling storyline, or, paradoxically, far more ridiculous to just play up the Grand Guignol elements and give the whole thing a bit more perverse life.

Mister Tee
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Crimson Peak reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Wed Oct 14, 2015 5:13 pm

Since I've been touting this, I feel duty-bound to post the trade reviews. Not an awards film, it appears (outside of design/effects categories), but it sounds like it could be fascinating. (The Variety review is, from what I've seen, an outlier on the negative side.)

Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
The second-best horror film of 1946.

Guillermo del Toro tries his elegant best to shake the cobwebs from a musty old genre but still ends up telling a very traditional and predictable haunted house yarn in Crimson Peak. The gifted fantasy/sci-fi/horror specialist has made a film that's very bloody, and bloody stylish at that, one that's certainly unequaled in its field for the beauty of its camerawork, sets, costumes and effects. But it's also conventionally plotted and not surprising or scary at all, as it resurrects hoary horror tropes from decades ago to utilize them in conventional, rather than fresh or subversive, ways. It's a thousand times more elaborate and sumptuous than the most recent demented domicile tale of note, The Babadook, but not an ounce as frightening or disturbing. Still, on the basis of anticipated scares and del Toro's following, Universal should get some potent pre-Halloween business out of this beautifully bedecked Gothic-style melodrama.

If the devil were indeed entirely in the details, del Toro would have a genre classic on his hands. This is clearly a filmmaker who relishes research and enriching his work with deep-dish references; the story's first half, set in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, practically groans with the sense of a society about to assert itself broadly on the world stage, of the expansiveness of the incipient Teddy Roosevelt era rooted in bold initiative and industriousness.

At the same time, the screenplay by the director and veteran scribe Matthew Robbins is deeply informed by the tradition of both literary and cinematic Gothic melodrama, which in context is used to convey the inbred, diseased and inevitably doomed society of royalty and Old World privilege, here represented by a crumbling manse in rural England, the location of the drama's second half.

But no matter how richly and skillfully this physically seductive venture transports the viewer into its spheres of interest, one is still left with a film dedicated to a sincere and utterly unironic use of such chestnuts as an evil sister-in-law poisoning her unsuspecting victim via the tea she continually serves her, a spooky house conveniently being situated miles from the nearest neighbor, strict instructions never to descend beneath the house's main floor, and a frightened heroine (played by an actress who four years ago was the lead in a fine Jane Eyre) continually sweeping through dark rooms carrying a candelabra. All this in a film featuring a leading lady whose first and last words of voiceover are the same: “Ghosts are real. This much I know.”

The one hour of set-up is firmly situated in the real world and is all the better for it. The damsel soon to be distressed is young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), herself an aspiring writer of Gothic melodrama who fancies herself the new Mary Shelley and lives in one of turn-of-the-century Buffalo's most distinguished homes as the only child of widowed industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), who worked his way up the hard way. Although beautiful and highly eligible, Edith remains by temperament more the bookish recluse and still resists the perennial ardent attentions of childhood friend-turned-handsome young doctor Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).

Weakening her defenses, however, is newly arrived Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an Englishman who has come, accompanied by his less congenial older sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), seeking American backing for a “clay harvester,” a mining machine that will efficiently do the work it takes many men to accomplish. Seeing right through the effete Thomas' obsequiousness, shrewd old Cushing (there's no doubt where del Toro took that name from) takes to calling the fancy man Little Lord Fauntleroy and, noting Lucille's more pronounced oddness, announces that, “There's something not quite right about them.” He's absolutely right and yet doesn't know the half of it.

When a detective delivers Cushing plenty of dirt on the English couple, the old man pays the ultimate price for his skepticism in a horribly violent murder scene that's made to look like an accident. Her father's death and the money leaves Edith free to follow her heart, if not her mind, to England as Thomas' virgin bride. Unfortunately, Lady Lucille is part of the package — an increasingly big part, in fact, that could be more objectively described as self-anointed jailer and nurse.

This sort of malevolent gatekeeper-of-the-family-secrets character has populated many a fusty melodrama over the decades, and the sexual jealousy and hostility Lady Lucille feels for Edith is nothing new either. Now a prisoner in a cold, dilapidated mansion, Edith must endure encounters with a crawling, grasping black ghost as she sneaks about the house (often with candelabra in hand) discovering secrets and trying to gain any advantage she can over the desperate Lucille, who feels her brother's affection slipping away from her.

The fine actors on hand all play it straight with absolute conviction in what they're doing, but the one who best captures the spirit of the times — and plays the one character who sees through the visitors' ruse — is Beaver, a veteran character actor still not widely enough seen on the big screen.

It's entirely likely that no previous rendition of this sort of sexually twisted, psychologically degenerative and spectrally haunted fright story has ever been served up with so much stylistic sauce as del Toro has poured onto Crimson Peak, so named for the the red clay that the Sharpe's family pile, Allerdale Hall, is built upon and which colorfully, and symbolically, contaminates all it touches. The immersive attention to detail in regard to the fanciful props, glorious fabrics, layers of clothing, color coordination, home furnishings, bathroom ceramics, detailed hand craftsmanship, paintings on the walls, the latest inventions and manifestations of turn-of-the-century upper-class life feel compulsive but not fetishistic; to be sure, del Toro insisted upon and coordinated all of this, but special mention must be made of the exceptional contributions of production designer Tom Sanders, costume designer Kate Hawley, cinematographer Dan Laustsen and their staffs. For anyone interested in all-in, full-freight period re-creation, the film is worth seeing for this alone.

Dramatically and even morally, however, Crimson Peak feels like a 1946 film made seven decades later; the conventions are all carried over intact from an earlier time, so that only the technical aspects and gore level identify it as a product of its own era. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, except that the conventions the film trades in seem so dusty and time-worn that they cry out for revision and/or reconsideration. Del Toro plays it all very straight, so that the only surprise is the lack of same.

Peter Debruge
Chief International Film Critic @AskDebruge

Even the pristine white snow bleeds bright scarlet in “Crimson Peak,” the malformed love child between a richly atmospheric gothic romance and an overripe Italian giallo — delivered into this world by the mad doctor himself, horror maestro Guillermo del Toro, operating at his most stylistically unhinged. Aflame with color and awash in symbolism, this undeniably ravishing yet ultimately disappointing haunted-house meller is all surface and no substance, sinking under the weight of its own self-importance into the sanguine muck below. Named after the estate to which Mia Wasikowska’s newly orphaned and even newlier-wed heroine unwisely relocates with a plainly duplicitous brother-sister pair, “Crimson Peak” proves too frou-frou for genre fans, too gory for the Harlequin crowd and all-around too obvious for anyone pressed to guess what the siblings’ dark secret could possibly be, and will likely wind up an in-the-red setback to Universal’s most profitable year.

It’s a testament to del Toro’s stature in Hollywood that the studio greenlit this costly R-rated indulgence, far closer in tone to such Spanish-language chillers as “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Cronos” than any of the comicbook and action spectaculars that have since made him a household name in the States. After butting heads with Warners over “Pacific Rim’s” PG-13 rating (which may explain the delays to that pic’s sequel), he dramatically switches gears on a twisted costume opera designed to let his bloodier tendencies loose. Bursting with references both literary and cinematic, this is del Toro’s “The Age of Innocence” by way of Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents,” as brazenly over-the-top as those films were subtle, manifesting a ghost story in which Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing has far more to fear from the living than from the dead, and the female of the species is deadlier than the male.

An anomaly among the husband-hunting bachelorettes of turn-of-the-century Buffalo, N.Y., Edith would rather write fiction — specifically, tales of the supernatural — than attend fancy high-society balls. Though a skeptic toward romance, she believes in ghosts, having received a mortifying visit from her late mother (played by “Pan’s Labyrinth” creep Doug Jones) while still a young girl. At the time, she doesn’t put much stock in the wraith’s warning — “Beware of Crimson Peak,” hisses the incongruously computer-generated apparition — and she remains far more open-minded toward the undead than any of her altar-bound peers would be. That’ll come in handy more than an hour later, when she finally gets to Crimson Peak, a crumbling British mansion perched atop a heap of blood-red clay.

But first, she has to fall in love, which poses a unique challenge for del Toro. As with the heroine that he and co-writer Matthew Robbins have created, his literary role model is more Mary Shelley than Jane Austen. The helmer seems far more comfortable noodling around in the audience’s collective subconscious, where fears lurk and desire festers, than dealing with something as straightforward as pure romantic attraction, and though he’s attempted to create a triangle between Edith and two differently alluring men, hardy local doc Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) and obsequious British baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), it seems pretty clear that she’d be better off sticking to her principles and avoiding such entanglements altogether.

And yet, del Toro takes his time with Sharpe’s seduction, as if the director who can make people faint from fright were trying to prove to himself that he can get them to swoon as well. Just wait’ll you get to the sex scenes. Neither love nor lust comes easily to del Toro, despite a charming enough ballroom setpiece in which Edith and Sharpe test whether they can waltz in circles without extinguishing a lit candle, while the baronet’s raven-haired sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, alarmingly miscast), smolders in sync from behind the piano.

Something’s not quite right between these two siblings, and cinemas should comp the tickets of all who divine what the trouble is before Sharpe marries Edith against the objections of her aristocracy-phobic father (“Deadwood’s” Jim Beaver) and whisks his new bride off to the very place her dead mother so directly warned her not to visit. (Following his revoltingly brutal murder, ghost-dad should probably pay Edith a visit as well, if only to tell her who it was that smashed his skull in.) Sharpe may or may not love Edith, but he definitely likes her money, which he needs to finance a noisy contraption that digs that gross clay out from Crimson Peak.

While America, land of Thomas Edison, was lit all in gold and bronze tones, back home in Sharpe’s native Britain, things look infinitely more somber, the gloom pierced by almost fluorescent stabs of light — a look d.p. Dan Lausten clearly borrowed from the Dario Argento playbook (one the film itself dubs “gothic a la Italiana”). Ornate in the extreme, with entire rooms dedicated just to moths and a forbidden basement full of burbling blood-red clay vats, the Sharpes’ mausoleum-like home appears to be an LSD-spiked, Technicolor-nightmare version of Manderley, as featured in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca.” Cued by Fernando Velazquez’s wonderfully eerie score, one can practically feel the specter of past wives hanging about the place — they’re plainly visible to Edith, as they lurk behind closed doors and waft up through floorboards like projections from Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride.

Love may have hobbled her intellect, but Edith remains a reasonably smart young woman: All it takes is a reminder visit from her dead mom and a nasty fit of coughing up blood to realize that something is amiss. And her intuition is better than del Toro’s, who never should have chosen Chastain: While the actress expanded her strong, wholesome image by crossing over to the dark side in last year’s “A Most Violent Year,” the role of Lucille requires a streak of vicious insecurity and black-widow ruthlessness that Chastain flounders to convey. “Crimson Peak” demands a witchier — or at least bitchier — actress to go all Mrs. Danvers on Edith. (Parker Posey comes to mind, though Hiddleston’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” co-star, Tilda Swinton, would have made a delicious alternative.) Deprived of her own crimson locks, Chastain can’t even manage the British accent, and the character’s psychotic break ultimately ruptures the pic’s last shred of credibility.

By contrast, with her pale, porcelain-doll face and long blonde tresses, the appropriately cast Wasikowska practically glows in the dark as she takes candelabra in hand and goes looking for the haunted house’s secrets. Still, less setup and a lot more exploring would have done wonders, as the mansion is by far the film’s main attraction — the brainchild of del Toro and production designer Tom Sanders, whose work on “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was an ideal warm-up for the gig.

As it happens, del Toro (together with co-writer Robbins) already has a far more effective haunted-house picture under his belt, the Troy Nixey-directed “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (a movie that, while scripted for a PG-13, landed an R from the MPAA for sheer intensity). Though the director takes clear delight in being free to operate in adults-only mode here, the tonal mismatch between visual beauty and Grand Guignol gore — an oculus rift, if ever there was — yields revulsion rather than fright. He errs by opening the film with a flash-forward that assures us Edith will survive, and delivers the film’s only real scare in the very next scene, when her mom first visits. It hardly matters that “Crimson Peak” blossoms into del Toro’s most sumptuous film, as there’s no recovering from the fact the suspense crimson-peaks too early.

Screen Daily
By Tim Grierson, Senior US Critic

Dir: Guillermo del Toro. US. 2015. 118mins

The terror is pleasure in Crimson Peak, a fondly nostalgic Gothic horror movie in which director Guillermo del Toro delivers plenty of elegant chills while trying to supress a cheeky grin, luxuriating in the clammy, spooky-scary conventions of the genre.

Dilapidated mansions, wandering ghosts, the air thick with ever-present menace: Crimson Peak is such a loving homage that sometimes it can feel like an elaborate facsimile, a beautiful corpse perfectly preserved. But del Toro’s predictably impeccable production design and tonal flourishes help bring the film to life, aided by strong performances from his leads, especially Jessica Chastain, who gives the otherwise reverent proceedings just the right amount of jolt.

Opening across much of the globe October 16, this Universal release enters a marketplace that will have no shortage of Halloween-timed offerings, including Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Because Crimson Peak is more of a horror throwback, preferring turn-of-the-century haunted houses to contemporary found-footage gimmicks, the film may find a commercial sweet spot, which will no doubt be helped by a starry cast that features Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston. Coming off 2013’s Pacific Rim, his biggest international hit ($411m worldwide), del Toro could enjoy a little uptick in his marquee value as well, although strong reviews will probably prove just as beneficial.

Set in 1901, Crimson Peak begins in Buffalo as aspiring writer Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) meets handsome Englishman Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), who wants to sell her adoring well-to-do father (Jim Beaver) a business proposition. Thomas’s sales pitch falls flat, but love blossoms between Edith and Thomas, which displeases her father once he learns mysteriously troubling things about the young man’s past.

With the assistance of his conniving sister Lucille (Chastain), Thomas spirits Edith away to his crumbling English estate in the middle of nowhere, where they are soon married. Oddly, Edith doesn’t seem too concerned that her father dies under suspicious circumstances before her departure, but she starts to wonder if the Sharpe siblings can be trusted after being visited by ghostly figures inside the mansion.

The filmmaker behind sophisticated horror-fantasy films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro (who also co-wrote Crimson Peak) has said he wanted to craft a love letter to bygone Gothic romances such as Rebecca, but even younger viewers will instinctively be able to pick up on the references being made, the movie’s old-fashioned aesthetic recycled and parodied frequently in contemporary horror.

Often in del Toro’s films, the atmosphere and look can outstrip the characters and plotting. The same limitation rears its head in Crimson Peak, but this proves to be less of an issue than in the past, partly because production designer Tom Sanders, cinematographer Dan Laustsen, composer Fernando Velázquez and costume designer Kate Hawley have produced such an absorbing, enveloping world that the very fabric of the sound and images generates sufficient dread.

That’s a good thing since Crimson Peak’s central players are a tad underdeveloped — admittedly, somewhat by design. Just as del Toro is saluting older, more sensuous horror films, so too is he presenting us with characters who very easily could have walked straight out of those earlier movies. As Edith, Wasikowska portrays a stereotypical virginal, naïve beauty who only slowly realises she’s cast her lot with monsters. (Del Toro doesn’t even bother hiding that fact, as Thomas and Lucille are shown early on plotting.) Likewise, Hiddleston’s English gentleman with a secret isn’t meant to be a wry wink or sendup of a familiar trope: instead, the actor follows his director’s lead, eschewing irony or smugness in his performance.

Of course, the problem with such an approach is that it can leave Crimson Peak haunted by its influences. And while the movie moves forward with a steady confidence, the suspense surrounding precisely what’s going on in the big spooky house and between the Sharpe siblings tends to stay at a low boil, more an excuse to sustain the exquisitely icy tenor than really ratcheting up the tension. Fear not: Eventually, del Toro not only reveals the contours of the Sharpes’ plan but also dreams up several ace set pieces that are more than faithful re-creations of pre-existing horror sequences but, in fact, are rivetingly and superbly executed. (And throughout Crimson Peak, he savours introducing blood-like imagery whenever possible, most notably in the red clay surrounding and under the siblings’ weathered domicile.)

If del Toro is mostly playing it straight, albeit with deep affection, he is intriguingly undercut a tad by Chastain, whose Lucille from the first moment signals that her tight-lipped smile is hiding all sorts of sinister intentions. Without ever devolving into camp, the Oscar-nominated actress gives a performance in which her character’s subdued evil so obvious that it’s delightfully, unsettlingly comical. This is a droll turn, but Chastain brings extra dimensions as Crimson Peak grows in intensity, Lucille finally laying bare the extent of her demented wickedness. Del Toro and Chastain work in cahoots, reaching for an emotional, finely-calibrated outsized finale that pays off much of what has come before. With Crimson Peak, he tries to make a horror movie like they used to, happily playing alongside the ghosts of the past.

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