Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain. Rated 14A. Now playing
"Ghosts are real," proclaims Edith (Mia Wasikowska) at the start of Crimson Peak, and for the next two hours director Guillermo del Toro strives to bring that notion to life with a Gothic horror-romance that is so visually stunning you pretty well forgive its major lack of suspense.
Edith is the reclusive, literary-minded daughter of Buffalo industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), who in 1901 is approached by gentlemanly Brit Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) when the latter is looking for investors in his engineering project back home. But there's something the self-made Cushing doesn't like about Sharpe—and it's more than just his girly-soft hands. He doesn't much care for the stranger's interest in Edith, either. He pays Sharpe and his brooding sister Lucille (Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain) to go away for good, which leads to some nasty ultraviolence involving the corner of a porcelain sink.
Sharpe gets the girl anyway, and when he takes new wife Edith back to his elegantly rotting ancestral manse sitting on a subterranean deposit of ever-oozing blood-red clay, the movie takes the conventional form of a '60s Hammer haunted-house flick. The most stylish one imaginable.
Del Toro—who won over discerning horror fans with the Spanish-language Cronos and The Devil's Backbone before hitting it big in 2006 with his dark fable Pan's Labyrinth—pulls out all the freaky visual stops. At one point his obsession with winged insects sees a butterfly swarmed by tiny ants, its eyes devoured by gouging pincers in miscroscopic closeup.
The detail and colour in the costumes and sets keep you transfixed until the ornate vibe is shattered by ghastly violence. The quality and inventiveness of the various apparition effects heightens the eye-candy level, and every single characterization rings true.
Crimson Peak has a lot going for it, and may well be the most ravishing horror movie ever made.
Too bad it just isn't scary enough.