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Redrum, Redrum

Universal Pictures
 119 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro 
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain
Crimson Peak

If Alfred Hitchcock were alive and making movies today, he’d love to take on a project like Crimson Peak. It’s got everything he loved in a movie, especially the blonde heroine (Mia Wasikowska), a particularly nasty villainess (Jessica Chastain), some garishly effective set design, and an intricate plot. It’s also got something Hitch never fooled with, ghosts, but he’d be smart enough to order a rewrite and ditch the ghosts. Of course, Guillermo del Toro, who directed and co-wrote Crimson Peaks, was happy to put lots of ghosts in Crimson Peak, from the very first scene. And that’s why Hitchcock is Hitchcock and Guillermo del Toro is not.


Crimson Peak has a lot of literary and cinematic antecedents, including some classics from the 1930’s and early 1940’s like the adaptations of Bronte classics Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and Hitch’s own Rebecca. But del Toro adds a 21st century sexuality to the Edwardian settings and some spectacular set design to suggest a gigantic decayed mansion that positively reeks of the evil within. And, for most of the movie, the atmospherics and sensuality are enough to sustain the movie, until everything falls apart at the end.


Long before that, however, the audience is introduced to Edith Cushing (Wasikova), would-be novelist who also happens to be the heir to one of the biggest manufacturing fortunes in turn-of-the-century Buffalo, NY. She’s not all that enamored of her proper but decidedly unromantic friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), and finds herself attracted to a visiting English nobleman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Sharpe is in Buffalo trying to raise funds to modernize his clay mine and keep his family solvent, but Edith’s father (Jim Beaver) refuses to help.


Sharpe figures out another way to get his hands on Daddy’s money, namely by marrying Edith and whisking her off to his family estate, dubbed Crimson Peak because it literally sits directly on top of the clay mine. By this time, Daddy has met with a convenient accident, so there’s nothing but some paperwork that stands in the way of Edith inheriting. And, not surprisingly, there’s nothing but Edith’s continued breathing that stands in the way of Thomas and his even creepier sister Lucille from getting their hands on Edith’s family fortune.


So far, the plot of Crimson Peak is quite similar to a long line of Gothic horror stories, and the similarities extend to del Toro’s spectacular design for the mansion, which sits on a bare hilltop in the middle of nowhere. The mansion looks foreboding enough on the outside, but, on the inside, it’s half in ruins, with a gaping hole in the roof so that the winter’s snow rapidly accumulates in the foyer. In addition, the mansion has basements, several of them, since it sits above the mines and Thomas, a bit of an engineer, has worked on ways to extract the ores and get them to the surface, with lots of machinery and giant vats of who knows what substances in the basements. And of course, the basements come with a warning, as Lucille somberly tells Edith not to go down there, which is a surefire way to ensure that’s exactly what happens.


Edith receives other warnings as well, although none of them come from her common sense, which should tell her that going off with a nearly complete stranger and his creepy sister to a mansion in the middle of nowhere when you’ve just inherited a ton of money under mysterious circumstances is a bad idea. No, these warnings come from ghosts, first that of her prescient mother in childhood who warns her about Crimson Peak. Then, when she gets in the house, she finds that it’s filled with other ghosts, who seem to resemble the zombies from The Walking Dead. These ghosts, in addition to turning the already creepy corridors of the mansion into an other worldly obstacle course, tip Edith off about where to find clues to help her unravel the mysteries of the mansion.


Like every good Gothic horror story, Crimson Peak relies on solving the central mystery. That solution likely won’t come as a surprise to most people, but Edith needs a lot of help from the mansion’s now-deceased inhabitants to figure it out. They direct her to the hiding place where a lot of incriminating evidence has been conveniently hidden. Then, towards the end, they start to play a bigger role in what’s going on and contribute to the over-the-top ending in which del Toro completely loses control of the movie.


A movie like Crimson Peak walks a thin line between bizarre but serious melodrama and total camp of the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane variety. Del Toro relies on his actors to keep things under control and, for the most part, they do so. Jessica Chastain has the toughest task, since her character is gradually revealed to be more and more unhinged as the movie goes along. She keeps Lucille just credible enough to be a serious menace until the end. At that point, she goes totally bonkers, and, though the portrayal is entertaining, it does shatter the mood that del Toro has carefully set up. To make matters worse, the final showdown between Edith and Lucille is marked by both wielding increasingly larger knives, in an arms race that resembles Bugs Bunny dueling Yosemite Sam.


Thanks to solid acting turns by the three leads, a suitably warped screenplay, and the incredible production design, Crimson Peak is a sheer delight for most of its way. Audiences can overlook the miscasting of Wasikowska and Hiddleston (she’s far too attractive for the role and he’s not attractive enough) and even the annoyance of the ghosts until the end, when poorly delivered but nevertheless over-the-top scares come one after the other. Del Toro apparently wanted to use every bit of the film’s effects budget to rival the set pieces on his television series, The Strain. He does so, but the strain that his ghostly effects and the outright campiness at end create shatters the mood he so carefully built for 100 minutes. Crimson Peak doubtless ranks as del Toro’s signature visual statement, which, for a director known for his ability to create eye catching alternate realities is quite a statement. However, like a ghostly vision itself, the movie comes close to horror movie perfection before falling cruelly short in the last 20 minutes. Crimson Peak simply peaks too soon and goes quite a ways downhill before the movie ends.

Read other reviews of Crimson Peak:


Crimson Peak (2015) on IMDb