GHOST OF A CHANCE

Early in Crimson Peak, a gothic horror pic from writer/director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), a little girl is warned by a ghost to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Ten years on, the same ghost appears to the girl, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), to remind her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Not sure about you, but if I were the girl, there’s no way in hell you’d ever get me around anything remotely resembling anything like a peak, or anything even hinting at crimson, ever.

And yet, Edith does not take caution. Completely ignores the warning, really. You’d think she wouldn’t marry someone who operates a red clay mining company, let alone live with him in a creepy mansion where the red clay is mined, but that would make sense. And very little of this movie makes sense.

It’s the early 1900s, and Edith lives in upstate New York with her industrialist father Carter (Jim Beaver). Siblings Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille (Jessica Chastain) come to town seeking financing for their family-held mining company. After a serious of tedious scenes that run far too long, and subplots of social tension that mean nothing, we’re left with this: Although local doctor Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) is in love with her, Edith decides to marry Thomas who, to be honest, did a much better job of sweeping her off her feet. They move to Thomas’ family estate in England, which is cold, drafty and dreadful. There’s little light, some forbidden rooms, ghosts everywhere, and a gaping hole in the roof. But worst of all: Lucille lives with them. Why a newlywed couple would want a nagging sister around is inconceivable, but it’s clear that Thomas and Lucille have ulterior motivations.

The fact that these motivations — and other secrets — take too long to be revealed is one negative issue among many. The violence isn’t excessive but it is graphic. The film earns its R rating even though it probably should’ve been toned down for a PG-13. The ghost story is underdeveloped (and not scary), the love story isn’t believable, and the resolution isn’t satisfying. Narratively, the plot fails to generate interest, which is a disappointment, considering the lavish production.

Indeed, the film looks slick and gothic and vivid. The production design has an aged authenticity that feels era-appropriate, and the costumes suggestively reflect the innocent or sinister motivations of the characters wearing them. There’s also artistry in the cinematography: Note the scene in which Thomas and Lucille, while standing in a park, reveal they’re scheming against Edith. The siblings are in the foreground enshrouded in shadow, symbolizing a darkness to their actions. Meanwhile, the blitheful Edith is in the background, basking in sunlight, ignorant of the nefarious plot that awaits her. This is smart filmmaking; we subconsciously register these elements and become more invested in the characters.

Too bad Crimson Peak didn’t have more of this craftsmanship. As appealing as it looks, the story doesn’t do the artistry justice, and without a better story, the visual pleasures ultimately fall flat. Find something else to watch this Halloween season.

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