Two-and-a-half out of five stars
From Guillermo del Toro, the visionary writer and director of "Pan's Labyrinth," comes a fancy snuff film he describes as an attempt “to harken back to a classic, old-fashioned, grand Hollywood production in the Gothic romance genre.”
"Crimson Peak" is a lot of things, but it doesn’t feel like any of what del Toro was shooting for. Instead, he provides us with terrific actors, exceptional set pieces and a whole lot of twisted nonsense you won’t enjoy unless you’re a hard-core del Toro fan.
With "Crimson Peak," we’re supposed to care about Mia Wasikowska’s Edith, an aspiring author and daughter of a real estate tycoon in Buffalo, New York -- considered to be one of our country’s grandest and most industrious cities in the 19th century, when this film takes place. As we learn at the very beginning of the movie, Edith sees ghosts. It all started when her recently deceased, fairly creepy mother pays her a visit, cuddles up next to her in bed and, in a voice that’s half shriek, half whisper, warns, “Beware of Crimson Creek.”
Edith has no idea what that warning means but, obviously, she will never forget it.
Years later, one Mr. Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), come to town from England in hopes Thomas can convince Edith’s father to invest in his industrial clay-digging machine. Edith’s dad almost immediately develops a disdain for Sharpe. Edith, just as quickly, develops a crush on him and Sharpe, seemingly, falls for Edith. And then weird things begin to happen.
It soon becomes apparent the only thing this movie really has going for it is Hiddleston and Chastain’s terrific and enigmatic performances, which would have truly elevated "Crimson Peak" had I cared about Edith, or about anything else going on here. Wasikowska does what she can, too, but the horror conventions used to inform her character are trite. In fact, the entire story is full of twists that aren’t all that twisty, since you can see them coming a good half-hour before they arrive.
And then, this wanna-be “classic, old-fashioned, grand Hollywood production in the Gothic romance genre” becomes ridiculously graphic and violent. I understand lots of people like that kind of gratuitous carnage. I’m OK with it, too, as long as it fits. Here, it doesn’t. Del Toro didn’t need to go there, and you don’t need to see "Crimson Peak" to see him go there.