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Okay, so if you are of the delicate constitution that is spoiler-averse, consider yourself warned, as there are some slight spoilers below…

I caught Guillermo del Toro’s CRIMSON PEAK today, and I’d say that I think people may enjoy it if they go into it with the right state of mind. And I would begin by saying that, despite the marketing, this is definitely not a Horror movie. The critics/reviewers who say it’s more like a Romance, I think they’re correct. It’s a Gothic Romance.

And I’d take it a step further in that I would say that, despite the marketing, this movie barely qualifies as a ghost story. There are ghosts in it, and del Toro clearly relishes the visualization of the ghosts — however, the ghosts aren’t actually central to the story; rather, it felt to me that the ghosts were inserted in various points of the story as a way of escalating tensions where otherwise things might get too quiet.

The movie looks lovely — the costuming and set design are typically top-notch, the hallmark of del Toro, for sure. And the actors all perform well with their roles — Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam — all of them did their best Victorian Gothic costume drama performances. The actors all have good charisma, and it comes off well on the screen, as they’re devouring the luscious scenery.

However, the supernatural elements of the story feel like they are just there to pad out a generally thin story. There were some moments in it where I actually laughed at the over-the-top, lurid, almost “penny dreadful” nature of the story. In a very real sense, the setting on “Crimson Peak” is a red herring — it doesn’t play much of a role in the story, which could have taken place anywhere.

To my mind, if you make a point of having this red clay that oozes up from the ground, slowly sinking a massive Victorian mansion, you’ve got to have some payoff, there. But, instead, it’s just so much ornamentation, without any proper payoff.

The core story involves a fairly telegraphed, campy plot between Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain’s character, and them mostly going through the motions (again, they’re good actors — it would have just been nice to see them with a more potent script to give this story teeth.

Mia Wasikowska is charismatic onscreen — I feel like she’s the heir apparent to Paltrow and that other actress whose name eludes me (the one who showed up in a lot of movies for awhile but never really became a superstar, but just kind of showed up — Martha Plimpton). Anyway, she’s got good presence, and looks great in the costuming. She and Chastain run like hell in those big dresses they have to wear — I can only imagine how difficult it was for them to do this, because they run hard!

The first two reels are better than the third reel — the dramatic payoff just isn’t quite there, unfortunately. There’s very much of a sense of the screenwriter trying to check off things from a list, but none of the payoffs are really strong enough to carry through in a way more than “Huh. Yeah, I guess the pen really IS mightier than the sword. Or the cleaver, anyway.”

The biggest weakness of this movie is the weak story, which just doesn’t fully deliver, despite del Toro’s and the actors’ best efforts. Not scary, and melodramatic without being dramatic, but pretty to look ate. It’s about as close to the notion of a “guilty pleasure” as I’d get, but which ought to please fans of costume dramas, although the drama’s not quite dramatic enough, so maybe just fans of costuming and stunning set design.

*d

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