Crimson Peak Review: Gorgeous But Indecisive Horror

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Right from the start, Crimson Peak tells you that it isn’t a ghost story, but a story simply with ghosts in it. But by the time the end credits started rolling, I wasn’t sure director Guillermo del Toro knows the difference.

Horror films are rarely the meatiest of movies. There are of course exceptions, like Let the Right One In or The Exorcist. But generally speaking, their plots tend to be pretty bare-bones, sacrificing meat for careful tension building and an attempt at horrifying thrills, with success widely varying movie to movie. So when del Toro tells us right in the beginning that this isn’t a horror film, he’s going to have to prove it to us by replacing thrills with a plot. While Crimson Peak‘s story is well told, it’s also unfortunately thin.

Following the typical haunted house tropes, late 19th century aspiring author Edith (Mia Wasikowska) marries aspiring entrepreneur Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and proceeds to move in with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in a centuries old house that is literally falling apart. There’s a lot of creaking doors in the dark of night and Edith starts to be visited by wraiths of the house’s past.

After being told this isn’t a ghost story, we’re treated to half-a-dozen attempts to scare us. As a horror director, del Toro seems capable enough, but the terror never goes far enough to really make this a shield-your-eyes horror film that it either does or doesn’t want to be. Either way, the film’s indecisiveness is incredibly frustrating. Had the story been unique or surprising, this could have been forgiven. But you have to be pretty dense to not at least partially see the ending coming.

At least there’s always something to look at. Aesthetically, Crimson Peak is nothing short of stunning. From the architecture of the house to the lighting and use of color, the production values here are top-notch. The setting and general feel of the film are akin to an Edgar Allen Poe story. Considering this is a gothic yarn involving the dead, that’s one major thing the film has going for it.

But setting and mood don’t count for much if you fail to use them in an exciting manner. The story lacks drive and the horror to make up for it. What we end up with is a well-told though unoriginal tale that looks beautiful. While there are certainly way worse horror films to spend your cash on, this one won’t satiate your annual Halloween craving. Grade: C+

By Matt Dougherty

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