My girlfriend and I have been looking forward to seeing Crimson Peak for some time. And not only have we been looking forward to seeing it; its a film we wanted to do well at the box office. It’s rare I feel strongly enough about a movie to care about that side of things, but the reason is this: we really liked Sons of Anarchy, and both of us really like Charlie Hunnam as an actor. With Sons having wound up, this movie feels like it is coming at an important, perhaps decisive, time in determining where Hunnam’s career goes after this. So for that reason, we wanted the film to be a success. Secondarily, both of us really like Jessica Chastain (duh), and also are fond of Guillermo del Toro’s films. Speaking of which, Pacific Rim was fantastic and obviously Hunnam was in that, but the film didn’t really make bank at the US box office. Neither has Crimson Peak, it appears, but we’ll get to that.
So, we wanted very much for Crimson Peak to be a top quality film, on the level of Pan’s Labyrinth. Sadly, it didn’t really deliver, although it’s not a bad film. Most of its weaknesses stemmed from its opening Act. Setting up the relationship between protagonist Edith (Mia Wasikowska) and the English ‘Baronet’ Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a character straight out of David Cameron’s Cabinet, the opening felt like it dragged on far too long; partly because it was difficult to care too much about either of the two main characters. There is a storyline involving Edith’s ambitions as a writer which never really goes anywhere; otherwise it’s just Edith falling for the nefarious but charming Sir Thomas against her father’s wishes. The more interesting characters were rather in the background in this section, particularly Sir Thomas’s sister, Lucille (Chastain), and Edith’s father, the self-made millionaire Carter Cushing (in a welcome appearance from Jim Beaver of Deadwood fame). The tedium is punctuated by a shockingly violent murder, the impact of which is lessened by the surprising willingness of the other characters to assume that it was an accident. It’s always difficult to sympathize with stupid heroes.
The film does pick up once it moves to its eponymous locale in England, and we start to get some scares. The impact of these is rather detracted from, though, by literally the first scene in the film, where a ghost appears to a young Edith bearing a warning to ‘Beware of Crimson Peak!’ The ghost itself is rather frightening, and reminiscent of the creature from ‘Mama’, of which del Toro was a producer. However, scary as the ghost is, it is actually trying to help our heroine; so once the apparitions start appearing later on, we’re already expecting that they will actually help rather than hinder poor Edith, as of course it turns out. Instead, most of the actual fear in the movie comes via an intimidating performance by Chastain, who does an excellent job of portraying a seemingly reserved character with terrifying fits of rage brimming just beneath the surface. Some of the scariest moments in the film actually involve Chastain spooning porridge out of a bowl or holding a cooking pot in a threatening manner, which goes to show less is sometimes more in these things.
The film winds its way to its conclusion in two hours and the conclusion is fairly satisfying and predictable. Overall, the highlights are definitely Chastain’s performance and the stunning cinematography and visual design. On the other hand, the plot is somewhat lacking and we found it hard to care very much about what was going on. Which was a shame. Also, I personally can’t really get behind Hiddlestone as an actor, although I preferred him in this to his appearances in the lamentable Marvel films. I would have preferred seeing Charlie Hunnam in the ambiguous villain role as the likable ophthalmologist he plays in this doesn’t really connect and it is hard to see that this will do very much for his career.
Rather like Pacific Rim, it seems that Crimson Peak’s showing at the US box office has been underwhelming, but a strong international showing has gone some way to make up for that. Hopefully del Toro will attempt more films in this genre, although he could do with a stronger plot next time. Apparently Hunnam is starring in a couple of films due out in 2016 (including a Guy Ritchie film where he plays King Arthur and a biopic about the explorer Percy Fawcett), so we don’t need to start worrying about his career just yet.