Film Review: Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro is just one of those directors who seems to constantly have projects in the works that fail to get off the ground. If this continues he runs the risk of being known almost as much for films he couldn’t get off the ground as for the ones he’s actually made.

With projects like his adaptations of Pinnochio and HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountain of Madness finding themselves in development hell, and the follow up to his 2013 film Pacific Rim being cancelled indefinitely, del Toro is primed to overtake Terry Gilliam as the director with the unluckiest track record in Hollywood.

But Crimson Peak he did manage to get off the ground and it perfectly demonstrates the opposite side of the coin to being the kind of director who makes films outside the regular mould; the fact that directors like del Toro get away with a lot of things other less well known directors never would.

Crimson Peak takes place at the end of the 19th Century mostly in a haunted house in rural England. Throughout the film del Toro borrows story beats from older films like Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Psycho and from The Shining, which makes this film feel cobbled together from old parts rather than something new and exciting.

Del Toro also doesn’t really use the horror elements in his films with any particular finesse. The ghost that pops up in the film’s very first scene reappears throughout, but it never does anything, and after a while you can’t help but wonder why the damn things was put in to begin with.

The fact that the story is constantly aiming towards these tropes means the characters are squeezed into weird boxes where they have no room to breathe. The whole premise of the film rests on Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain’s relationship, but they are never given a moment of affection together, so that the whole thing feels pointless.

Del Toro also takes his sweet time getting Mia Wasikowska to the house, and you feel someone a bit more tactful could have gotten to the point much sooner and used the extra time to give the characters believable psychologies. As it is you don’t believe enough about them to care.

Characters here are constantly leaving themselves exposed to the next necessary plot development; a character needs to die? They put up absolutely no defence when someone comes at them with a knife. A character must sign her fortune away under explicit duress? She puts up no fight whatsoever. It’s a lazy story wrapped in very gorgeous production design, but not gorgeous enough to save this film from feeling too flat and unnecessary. In cinemas 16 October 2015. Watch the trailer here.

Stephen Murphy

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