In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author [(Mia Wasikowska)] is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.
I know, it’s lame that I stole the synopsis from IMDB on this one, but frankly, I can’t write anything as accurately flowery at the moment. I say “accurately flowery” because well, this movie is surface-level gorgeous. It’s like Mary Shelley threw up on Charles Dickens, all for Guillermo del Toro to film through a goth-technicolor filter – complete with glitter and ooze.
Unfortunately, style and substance tend to be two different animals, and sacrifices must be made.
What’s lost on us is any trace of subtlety, as best portrayed with Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe. We first see her at this resplendent gathering of socialites, decked in (what can be assumed to be) era-appropriate pinks and beige, but at the piano sits Lucille, draped in deep scarlet like a braggart countess practically begging for your undivided attention.
Granted, there’s supposed to be some culture shock between London and New York (not to mention her family’s supposed history of resplendent wealth) – but this sort of juxtaposition is terribly melodramatic.
Lucille’s jarring characterization doesn’t stop there; there seems to be no middle-ground with her – she’s either a stoic ice maiden or completely bonkers. What’s even more frustrating is that we know that Chastain is more than capable than adding some subtlety to a character – perhaps she’s not bad, but just written that way?
I don’t mean to harp on Chastain too much, as Lucille Sharpe isn’t the only problem. Though the film is beautifully atmospheric, it’s hard to call this film a horror. Sure, what Edith (Wasikowska) goes through is rightly terrible, but the over-romanticism of the plot creates a cultural disconnect of sorts – resulting in a Mary Sue who can see ghosts, just because.
In all, Crimson Peak plays like an old radio drama: atmospherically eerie as it is charming, but sadly predictable as all hell.
Final Grade: C+