Crimson Peak Review - Not Actually A Horror (And Not That Good Either)

Guillermo del Toro's disappointing "gothic romance".

Rating: ˜…˜… Crimson Peak isn't a horror. Guillermo del Toro really wants you to understand that. When we meet Mia Wasikowska's Edith Cushing, she's written "a story with a ghost in it", but while struggling to get it published is keen to emphasise that it is not "a ghost story". The spirits are merely metaphors for the past, she says, multiple times, making clear what the film we're watching really isn't. You see, somewhat contrary to the marketing, this is a "gothic romance", with Edith and Tom Hiddleston's Sir Thomas Sharpe marrying and moving to his creaky, literally breathing mansion in Cumberland, along with Jessica Chastain as his mysterious sister. It's weird and bizarre, with some cracking visuals, but only intermittently scary. Which is a shame, because the film is at its best when it's entering into horror territory; dark, angular corridors hold both shadows of the imagination and ghosts bleeding spiritual wisps into the mortal world, with a thudding heartbeat further personifying Allendale Hall as a living character. Intermittently it's some of the scariest cinema of 2015. If there'd been more of this, we could have had something really great.
Get away from these isolated moments, however, and it's a different picture. In fact, those competent (and infrequent) horror moments don't really fit inside the film. They come randomly, breaking over-the-top sereneness, and often culminate in jump scares accompanied with a requisite audio boom. That's right, signalled jump scares. Are we watching a "master of horror" or the latest Paranormal Activity hackjob? This would be excusable, especially given that the director has made clear he's leading us into a not-horror world, if what else Crimson Peak was offering was great. But it isn't. The script is obvious in both dialogue and plotting - if you can't figure out exactly where things are going from each character's introductory lines, you just aren't trying - and the pacing is all over the shop, jumping and stagnating on a whim. That gothic styling is equally erratic, accompanied all too often with a fairly large slice of kitsch (watch out for the circle-zoom of death). Oh, production-wise the film is excellent (that should be obvious), but while it looks great, tonally it is more Dark Shadows than Pan's Labyrinth.
I had a similar "Yeah, and?" feeling towards Pacific Rim (and, to a lesser extent Hellboy); it's pretty, but where's the heart or filmmaking skill? I get it - we all want to see auteurs who produce exciting, original projects, but that desire shouldn't allow us to overlook things as simple as poor dialogue dubbing and blatant editing mistakes. Guillermo del Toro has got himself to a point where people are going to praise him for a modicum of style amongst a rather generic film just because he's Guillermo del Toro; were he any another director he would be savaged for Crimson Peak. It's at best an unrefined vision, with that early clarification of not being a ghost story turning out to be more insurance against criticism than the key to understanding the film. In contradiction of Edith's insistence, the ghosts aren't really metaphors (unless you really want to stretch things). They're not even all out evil. They're plot devices, existing to push the story more than provide well-constructed bumps in the night. So yeah, Crimson Peak isn't a horror. It's not that good either.
Crimson Peak is in cinemas from 16th October.

Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.