Gothic tale isn't 'Peak' for filmmaker Del Toro
Even a great filmmaker can have his off days. For Guillermo Del Toro, creator of some of the best genre cinema of the past 20 years and the intriguing if imperfect FX series "The Strain," at least a few of those days involved collaborating with veteran screenwriter Matthew Robbins on the script for Del Toro's latest directorial effort, "Crimson Peak."
In true Del Toro fashion, this epic period ghost story is dripping with gorgeousness and gore. Set in the late 19th century, it follows the fate of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a strong-willed aspiring author from a wealthy New York home, as she falls for a titled English gentleman named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), joins him on his crumbling, sinking family estate, and all hell breaks loose.
The mansion itself is a masterpiece of CGI and production and sound design. Set on a foundation of blood red clay, its hallways "breathe" - a trick of wind and sealed windows, according to Sharpe - and its walls and floors come alive with black moths and drippy, skeletal phantoms that make their presence known to an increasingly terrified Edith. Not surprisingly, Edward and his clingy older sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), assure Edith that she has nothing to fear.
The audience knows differently, since Del Toro and Robbins establish early that the siblings are lying. As a result, the film offers precious little sense of discovery - just a feeling of inevitability conjured by its worn plotline.
Such predictability would be more palatable if it came with some effective scares, but "Crimson Peak" never rises above mild creepiness. It's a ghost story for the easily spooked - like the craft light beer of Halloween-month horror.
The lack of excitement isn't from a lack of effort by the principal cast. Joining a long line of romantic leading men with ulterior motives, Hiddleston balances his character's charm and malevolence with the best of them. Wasikowska does the same with Edith's combination of naivete and grit, and Chastain fully inhabits her place as the sinister lady of the house.
Fortunately, all the key players have better October-appropriate options to offer via video and streaming. For a good jolt, try Del Toro's previous ghost story, "The Devil's Backbone," or check out Chastain's work in "Mama." Wasikowska makes a bigger, nastier dent with a dysfunctional family story in "Stoker," and Hiddleston delivers originality and a good time in Jim Jarmusch's vampire tale "Only Lovers Left Alive."
2½ stars out of 4