Oct 17, 2015

Crimson Peak

I felt sorry for the actors. Guillermo del Toro's mashup of every gothic storyline known to man is only terrifying in its cheesiness. I have never been a fan of Del Toro's excessively corny fantasies, and this one takes the cake. A goulash with chunks of plots from Cinderella, Jane Eyre, vampire stuff, ghost stories and heavy borrowing from movies like The Shining, Crimson Peak is heavy-handed and overstuffed.
Where to begin? Young Edith Cushing (as in Peter Cushing, one supposes) consorts with ghosts. The ghost of her dead mother appears to her with a warning about bewaring of Crimson Peak, whatever that means. Edith (Mia Wasikowska, a good actress that seems to be stuck forever in the 19th century), soon falls in love with the dashing and charming Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, valiantly giving it his all). He has a somber sister, Lucille, (Jessica Chastain, who smartly understands that the only way to go is camp) who is suspiciously jealous of Edith. They live in a remote and ghastly house somewhere in England, where they manufacture red clay or red pigment that comes from clay, the color of blood. I won't go into the intricacies of a plot that Del Toro doesn't bother clarifying. All I can say is that one look at that dilapidated mansion out of the Chapultepec amusement park, and Edith should have either redecorated or run for her life. That she does neither is a sign that the director has no sense of humor, or of human nature.
The movie is a hodgepodge of ideas that he didn't really think through. I was convinced, for instance, that this was a solidly PG-13 movie until a ridiculous sex scene and then a plot about incest that seems to have sprung from the feverish imagination of a 14-year old. The motivations of the Sharpes are unclear: do they need money to keep the family business going, or they need blood because they are evil? Beats me. I defy anyone to recount the plot of this movie coherently.
Del Toro's ghosts look like the kind of Halloween decorations you buy at J.C. Penney's. They are too cheesy to be really scary. I pined for movies like The Innocents or even The Sixth Sense, in which the apparitions are deceptively real and truly spooky, not ghoulish puppets that are ridiculous rather than scary. Apparitions that are manipulated with clanging sound effects are not honest scares, and this is the cardinal sin of this movie. A horror movie may be cheesy and improbable and stupid, but if it manages to scare us, it has done its job. That is not the case here. If people jump, it is not because Del Toro knows how to stage a scary scene, it's because he uses loud sound effects instead.
The production design is meaninglessly cluttered, the costume design is an exaggerated parody of Victorian dress; even the nightgowns have puffed sleeves. The wigs are outrageously phony, the lighting makes everything look like a garish disco in the 1980's.  The somber elegance of real Victorian gothic, the perverse stylishness of an Edward Gorey are absent here.
I was reminded of Mexican telenovelas. Chastain, in particular, seems to be channeling the evil villainess Catalina Creel in Cuna De Lobos (Cradle of Wolves, a fabulously campy Mexican soap from the 80s). I also thought of cheesy Mexican horror films like El Santo Vs The Zombies. It is not inconceivable that these are some of Del Toro's influences. The question is whether he knows this. He seems to take his own cheesiness too seriously.

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