by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Del Toro cast Mia Wasikowska as a girl whose mother dies and reappears to her as a ghost, a trauma that causes her to do the voiceover for Crimson Peak. I know he has not seen any of Mia's other movies, since directors are obsessed with having her do the voiceover for her characters; here she intones in complete seriousness, "Ghosts are very real." Del Toro uses her hair as a lethal weapon, so blonde it is almost white. By the end of the lengthy trudge that is Crimson Peak we can barely tell whether she is a ghost or angel. Sadly, it probably does not matter.
Wasikowska's character is an aspiring author, and Del Toro even names her Edith. She has written an entire manuscript by hand, and her rich father uses his influence to get her ghost story read by a potential publisher. That man does not really think her concept is marketable, and so when she meets Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) a mining entrepreneur, she puts her writing aside for love. Her father (Jim Beaver) disapproves and hires a private investigator to dig into the background of his daughter's boyfriend.
Guillermo Del Toro is great at tons of things that don't actually involve making a compelling story. He is a genius at art direction, at style, at composition and framing. He is pretty bad to mediocre at surprising anyone. There is nothing the least bit scary about Crimson Peak, outside of the early scene where Mia's mom appears, her black ghost fingers wrapping around her child, to say, "Beware Crimson Peak." It was all downhill after that.
Casting is not one of Guillermo's fortes either. Perhaps his first choice for the role of this drama's Heathcliff, Benedict Cumberbatch, could have convincingly portrayed a man who after three murders, is suddenly unsure whether he still wants to fuck his sister (a brunette Jessica Chastain) and take the money of his soon-to-be-deceased wives. Hiddleston is so dull he resembles a brooch.
It would have made the film vastly more interesting if they had just swapped the female casting, allowing Chastain to play a fledgling author and Mia an incestuous blonde.
Del Toro offered Universal the pick of two projects; the other being a Lovecraft adaptation. Given the amount of patience it takes to sit through the one note plot of Crimson Peak, they made the wrong choice. Chastain tries to save the entire thing, but her perverse glee in her circumstances is kind of inappropriate given she is a poor woman whose only romantic option is her brother.
At the end she is playing the piano and despite yourself you feel even more sorry for her than you do for Mia. Wasikowska chose to become part of this family; Chastain was born into madness.
Crimson Peak would have been a lot better with even the slightest bit of humor, since there is nothing particularly entertaining in watching Wasikowska fall ill from the poisons her husband's sister/fuck-buddy places in her porridge. She is maybe saved by a doctor who admired that mane-like hair before her marriage to Thomas. The doctor is played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and his wretched accent is a highlight of the film's ending sequence. (His acting is not.)
Crimson Peak has the name because red clay seeps up through the snow in Jessica Chastain's decrepit manor. Del Toro turns the one set he does he have into a magnificent showpiece, but it seems clear he is working on a budget after the visual splendor of his recent films. Pacific Rim had a lot worse of a script, but at least you knew that Guillermo was having a good time. If you want to remake Rebecca, just remake Rebecca.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
"Do You Like That" - Lena Fayre (mp3)