Movie Review: “Crimson Peak”

peak1There’s a Byronic dash to Tom Hiddleston on the screen, a brooding fatalism that in an earlier era might have made him a go-to romantic lead.

But like Alan Rickman, he’s been defined by Hollywood as a villain. And like Rickman, he’s making the most of it. For now.

Guillermo del Toro’s stylishly gruesome “Crimson Peak” plays with that dichotomy, a horror film with a whiff of romance to it. If we never buy into the romance, it’s because we look at Hiddleston’s jet-black curls and think “Loki.” We just know he’s up to no-good, the worst kind of no-good.

Miss Play-it-Straight Mia Wasikowska stars in this return to horror form for del Toro, freed from hobbits and robots and “Hellboy” to seek his natural genre. The “Pan’s Labyrinth” director delivers a rather obvious but gruesomely stylish Gothic tale of a young woman who believes in ghosts, but doesn’t understand the warnings they pass on to her about this handsome baronet who comes calling.

It’s early 20th century Buffalo, and Edith Cushing is a catch. Her widowed industrialist dad (Jim Beaver) knows it. And he knows his daughter’s impressionable. She’s a would-be writer (her literary narration underscores early scenes) who is trying to publish a ghost story.

No, she corrects. “It’s a story with a ghost in it.”

Baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) whisks into Buffalo, the catch of the social season.He is smitten, and he says all the right things to young Edith.

“You see, where I come from, ghosts are not to be taken lightly.”

He’s hunting for investment money for a clay-mining scheme at the family estate. When his eyes turn to Edith, Mr. Cushing objects. And turns up dead.

Edith doesn’t see the coincidence, doesn’t suspect Thomas or his sinister sister Lucille played by Jessica Chastain with a viper’s gaze and not a whit of subtlety.  Only Edith’s ophthalmologist friend (Charlie Hunnam), an Arthur Conan Doyle buff, suspects foul play.

Too late. The couple are married and dash off to the moors of…somewhere in Britain. In the great ruined haunted Allerdale Hall, sitting on top of an oozing blood-red clay mine, Edith must discover the truth, or have the ghosts explain it to her, or she’s finished.

Del Toro has long been a master of visual tone, and the gloom of “Crimson Peak” weeps off the screen. The apparitions are a modern movie marvel — diaphanous, floating ghouls of black or reddest red, with tentacle-length fingers and voices from Hell.

“Beware of Crimson Peak!”

They’re hair-raising, and del Toro knows how to get the most from them. But the frights aren’t of the standard assaultive nature so many movie depend upon. Rather, it’s the graphic physical violence that repulses here, the things humans do to other humans with saws, knives and cleavers.

As I said, the tale itself is too easy to unravel and the mystery rather obvious in resolution. Technology is used as a deus ex machina, allowing Edith to solve the mystery in ways Mr. Edison might have provided. The meandering third act is a foregone conclusion and might have stung more had del Toro just gotten on with it.

Old fashioned ghost stories with a healthy helping of gore might not tickle the terror bone of the found-footage/torture porn generation. But del Toro reminds us just how chilling bumping into the supernatural is supposed to be, just how stomach churning violence is and just how many shades of red blood shows us, from first spurt to crusty dust.

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2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam
Credits: Directed by Guillermo del Toro, script by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:59

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