Filled with narrative potential and blessed with a stunningly eye catching production design, Crimson Peak reaches for the cinematic brass ring but just misses the mark. Fans of director Guillermo Del Toro and Gothic drama enthusiasts should feast on the film’s loving attention to detail and its deliciously haunting atmosphere, but its failure to achieve a resonant emotional core is a glaring flaw.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) was haunted by her mother’s ghost at an early age, as the apparition warned her daughter to “beware of Crimson Peak.” This supernatural visitation is a huge reason Edith possesses an individualistic and imaginative flair, traits which leads her to pursue a career as a fledgling writer. Though ghosts are her initial inspiration for her recent story, love eventually enters the mix thanks to the attention of two suitors: well intentioned Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), her childhood friend, and Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a baronet who seeks funding for his latest invention from Edith’s father (Jim Beaver).

Eventually swept away by the romantic overtures of Thomas (in the film’s most breathtaking sequence, Hiddleston and Wasikowska perform a waltz while in possession of a lit candle) while also heartbroken over a recent tragedy, Edith marries Thomas and moves to Allerdale Hall, a creaky Gothic mansion that’s also inhabited by Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Life at the new digs is a bleak proposition for Edith due to her battles with Lucille over Thomas’ affections. Thomas, though essentially joined at the hip with both women, is mainly fixated on perfecting his invention (it’s a machine that collects the deep red clay lies beneath the surface of Allerdale Hall). Amidst this dynamic is the presence of ghosts that continue to warn Edith about Crimson Peak, which is the nickname for the mountain that Allerdale Hall is built upon.

Crimson Peak’s strongest aspect lies in its visuals, as Del Toro and cinematographer Dan Lausten have crafted each frame with beautiful compositions. Cinema should be infused with images that may continue to haunt or inspire one’s dreams, and the film achieves that in spades. If one were to judge the film merely on its production value, Crimson Peak would be feted with the highest honors.

Unfortunately, there needs to be more than meets the eye, and writers Del Toro and Matthew Robbins create a brilliant set-up but fail to execute on several key points. Edith’s connection to ghosts, which creates most of the movie’s chilling moments, is never fully explored within the narrative. A brief chat with Dr. Alan McMichael, who confesses his own passion for the supernatural, could have led to a more intriguing bond with the pair, thus giving the love triangle a bit more gravitas. Instead, that thread, along with any real development of McMichael’s character, is left hanging. Although the red clay is a huge asset in establishing the movie’s rich color palette, it’s eventual connection to the story’s core is also rendered inconsequential.

While Hunnam, who previously worked with Del Toro in Pacific Rim, is saddled with an undercooked role, Wasikowska and Hiddleston have plenty to chew on as the film’s co-leads, and their chemistry is palpable. Thomas Sharpe, though initially coming off as a pure dilettante, has a ton of psychological trauma brimming under the surface, and Hiddleston brings a nuanced touch to Sharpe’s moral complexities. Wasikowska, luminous in the period drama Jane Eyre, brings that same intensity and allure to Crimson Peak, and both actors are a pure joy to watch.

Sadly, Jessica Chastain is completely miscast as Lucille, the story’s most unpredictable and malicious character. Lucille is a brazen schemer who is always a few steps ahead of the game, and with the set of keys that she religiously clutches and keeps from Edith’s grasp, it’s safe to assume she holds way too many secrets to count. Though Chastain boldly continues to step out of the comfort zone as an actor (she’s excellent as a tough as nails New Yorker in A Most Violent Year), she just isn’t the right fit for Lucille.

The final moments of Crimson Peak is aimed at delivering the emotional “peaks” that were reached by such heartbreaking dramas as Rebecca and Great Expectations. While it is a sumptuous and seductive visual spectacle, Crimson Peak should also captivate one’s heart and soul. Since Del Toro is one of cinema’s most passionate voices, as evidenced with The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s a shame that all of those beautiful dots (or in this case, ghosts) fail to make a lasting connection.

Crimson Peak opens Friday, October 16.

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Posted By: Greg Srisavasdi