Unlike Kyu, I have never been a big fan of horror movies. Which is kind of weird, because I like horror in pretty much all other mediums: horror television, horror novels, horror board games, and especially horror video games. Horror movies have mostly just never clicked for me. A lot of this is probably because horror is one of the cheaper genre of films to make, so a lot of really bad horror films get made every year (this is not limited to horror films), and that has led me to having an unfair bias. Still, a big part of this is ultimately I just don’t enjoy the experience of watching a horror film like I do with other movies, so I tend to avoid them. There are always exceptions though, and usually they come in the form of directors I love doing a horror project. In this case that would be Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite films of all time, and I just love his creative sensibilities. So that left me in a quandry: should I see Del Toro’s latest film, Crimson Peak, even though it is a horror movie? One of the runners in this year’s The Anticipated has been my debating this question. Ultimately a combination of the San Diego Comic Con panel and the film looking so damn pretty pushed me over the edge. So let’s see if I regretted seeing this movie or not.
Light Spoilers Ahead
Crimson Peak (October 17th, 2015)
How was it?
So for most of Crimson Peak, the movie is perfectly fine. It is gorgeous, has a great score, creates a chilling atmosphere, and the acting is solid enough. The script is a mess, though. Until the last 30 minutes or so, it looked as though Crimson Peak would end up a solid movie lacking the ambition toward greatness. Then the last thirty minutes of the film happen, and holy cow, this movie is amazingly bonkers. Spoilers in these reviews range in degree, but for this movie I am really going light on them, because, well, people should just see this movie. All I will say is that this movie is the latest example of why Jessica Chastain is one of, if not the, best actresses alive today. Her performance is so calculated, and perfectly balances camp and malice so that when she needs to be she can be absolutely terrifying. At times the script holds the actors and actresses back from truly showing off what they can do, but once the build up is over it lets everything fly to glorious results.
The big surprise of this move is Charlie Hunnam, who I have never been the biggest fan of, especially in his film work. His performance in Pacific Rim (while better after multiple viewings) left much to be desired. In Crimson Peak, however, he is in the perfect place for him—a prominent supporting actor. Freed from the shackles of being the lead and carrying a movie, Hunnam comes off as likable and effective in the role of Adam, an amateur detective who figures out what is really going on. Mia Wasikowska’s Edith (who also shines best in the dynamic ending section) is clearly inspired by Jane Eyre, a character Wasikowska played in 2011; it’s one of the most random instances of cinematic typecasting I have ever seen.
Still, as I’ve hinted, this film does suffer from an uneven script, as well as some weird pacing. Neither of these ultimately harms the film tremendously, but in comparison to the rest of the movie, the script is clearly the weak link. The dialogue is iffy at times, and the romance between Edith and Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas feels rushed. Del Toro has strengths as a screenwriter, and there are some really clever things done with the script in this film, especially involving the layering of lines that set up some positively delightful payoffs by the film’s end. But it would be nice to see what Del Toro could do if for once he let someone else write a screenplay and focused his creative efforts solely on directing. Del Toro’s films have such a unique look and feel, but his scripts always seem so generic. If he could pair himself with a truly great screenwriter at least once, the results could be mind blowing. (This may already be happening, as Matthew Robbins co-wrote this film with Del Toro, but Robbins has not done enough yet to prove how good of a screenwriter he is at this point.)
Isn’t this based on…?
Wooo! We have an original concept. Sure, it clearly draws influence from a variety of sources, but the story itself is original.
Should I have worried about seeing this film, and should it have been a part of The Anticipated?
So this part has to be done a bit differently than normal. Crimson Peak was not a part of the original core list. Instead it was mentioned as a gimmick, a running gag about whether I should see it. But the more I learned about the movie, the more I realized that I was probably overthinking things. This is not a true horror film, and Del Toro constantly said it was more of a gothic love story than anything else. Sure, there are ghosts, and the movie certainly has scary moments, but the core of the movie are the emotions created by its doomed love story. The intensity of this movie is a lot like Pan’s Labyrinth, and in many ways there is a similar energy to both films. Pan’s Labyrinth has a better script, though, and combined with what for many could be an uncomfortable viewing experience it is not surprising that Crimson Peak is not doing as well critically or with audiences as Pan’s Labyrinth did.
Even so, Del Toro has proven that at this point I just need to trust whatever the hell he is doing and see his movies. He has gained the rubber stamp of directors whose movies I will just see, no questions asked, regardless of subject matter. The question going forward is, what kind of movies will Del Toro get to make? The marketing campaign for Crimson Peak, while misguided (the movie is different from what the previews suggest), has been omnipresent, especially on television, where it has spent the most money on TV ads for the last two weeks. They really tried to draw audiences in, but the movie has just proven to be a hard sell, as rated-R horror (or in this case, horror-adjacent) movies just don’t do as well in the box office as they used to. Crimson Peak‘s domestic returns are disappointing, and it seems like this film will only be moderately successful at best, depending on overseas sales (which are what allowed Pacific Rim to be profitable). The worry with Crimson Peak, however, is that it may not be able to make any money in China because of the country’s random ‘no ghosts’ rule. That’s a whole different discussion, but basically the secular Communist government’s official censorship guidelines prohibit films that “promote cults or superstition.” By extension this includes ghosts, and so any movie that presents ghosts in a way that suggests they are real has to be changed to make it clear the ghosts were not real. This can be done in a number of ways: the main character is mentally ill, on drugs, or dreaming, etc., but it has to be the movie’s official position that ghosts are not real. This could be a huge problem for Crimson Peak, as any such changes would fundamentally change the movie. Del Toro might refuse to allow those changes to be made; that would mean Crimson Peak may never be able to screen in China, which would be a crippling blow to its financial outlook.
Del Toro’s film sensibilities are more and more in conflict with what actually makes money worldwide, and because of that he may slowly find that the big budgets he needs to fulfill his creative ideas are no longer available. This is already coming true: Pacific Rim 2 is currently in limbo, and it is very likely it will suffer the same fate as Tron 3. Tron Legacy made money, but not nearly as much as the rest of Disney’s various empire of projects, so instead of allocating resources to it, Disney decided to spend its money on more proven commodities. Universal (and by extension Legendary Pictures) is in the midst of having the greatest single year a studio has ever had from a box office perspective. That means it no longer needs Pacific Rim 2, and was probably looking to Crimson Peak to determine what kind of market there would be for the kaiju action sequel. So far the prognosis does not look good. While from a quality perspective Crimson Peak probably warranted at least an honorable mention on my list, its inclusion is a lot more questionable from both a box office perspective and the way its lack of success may shape the industry creatively going forward.
Would I recommend it to others?
Yes, but it’s a pretty intense movie, so if that is not your kind of thing, maybe you should pass on it. The key, though, is you really need to see this film in theatres. It just won’t be even close to the same viewing experience if you see it at home, and the film will be significantly less enjoyable because of that.
How does this film measure up in a post Mad Max: Fury Road world?
Before the ending, the film probably deserved some scraps, but with the ending the film proved it deserved its on place at the table.
How would I rate it?
Instead of our handy dandy made-up anticipation meter for this film, we will use the made-up anxiety meter, on which Crimson Peak gets 7 violent ghosts out of 10, because, while a really good movie, its likely break-even box office performance could have some horrible ripple effects going forward.
For an actual rating: The film is gorgeous, and a textbook example of the benefits of seeing a movie in theatres. Combine this with Jessica Chastain’s dynamic performance and an awesome ending, and this film gets 3.5 stars out of 4. It gets dinged a little for an uneven script and poor pacing, both of which prevent the characters from shining as brightly as they could have for a chunk of the film.
That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. Next up is the film I thought would actually be my first edition of October: one of the list’s bonus films, Jem and the Holograms. Jem was marked as one of the most intriguing films of the year, because it is likely either going to be a big hit or a spectacular failure, with very little chance of it falling in between. I guess we’ll just have to see which is the case in the next edition of The Anticipated.
Will David Be Watching Crimson Peak?
Yes, I did see it. You just read my thoughts on it, so this question is banished, never to be seen again.