WTF, Crimson Peak?

WTF, Crimson Peak?

Writing this on the back of seeing the film. We had wanted to spend our Saturday evening watching it, but, due to what I thought was poor fiscal performance in days previous, the run of film has been cut short. We should have known better.

More like Crimson Cheek.

More like Crimson Cheek.

It’s a shame – we were both looking forward to it – the visuals coming off the trailer were superb, Guillermo del Toro has done fantastic work in previous off-the-wall weird stories, the whole thing was shaping up to be a nice, well-developed gothic piece. What we got…not so much.

The themes were well constructed, the tropes, if not novel, are for the most part effectively done. But then, there is this weird, inappropriate mash, which hangs off the film like a tumour. There were several distinct areas that derailed the film; each of which alone probably wouldn’t have been fatal, but in combination left the work a twisted mess.

I. The Acting
Mia Wasikowska did an acceptable ingénue. Though I’ve seen her in different films, I’ve not seen her in a different role. I’m told she does have a broader range, though, and is competent in it as well. Here, she was able to portray a frailty throughout the first two acts that was believable, and, to her credit, didn’t suddenly drop it in the third when shit hit the fan.

Jessica Chastain played her role as distant/crazed sister far too straight. The weight of her performance dragged down almost every scene she was in, save for her introductory. And that scene was hardly focused on her character anyways. The whole first act of the film saw everyone at their worst – the dialogue was stilted, the interactions wooden. The actors that made it through to the next two, however, found their paces. Not so Sister Lucille.

Charlie Hunnam did a pretty good job as second man. The accent, as ever with Hunnam, was sometimes an issue – I can understand casting him as an American, coming off the success of Sons of Anarchy (season to season, great fun for watching the accent, that), but it struck me as a bit surreal to have all these various actors playing in roles opposite their natural accents – Chastain struggling as toff, Hunnam some manner of New England via SoCal. Wasikowska, born and raised Australian, has always impressed me with her command of accents. Returning to Hunnam’s performance, he played his role with the camp that was sorely lacking in other aspects of the film, and looks the better for it. Not overly done, and certainly not in some knowing manner, as if the character were in on the joke with us. Rather, he hit the cues laid out for him with an earnestness that worked, that fit.

Pulling a lot from his Loki role for the character, Tom Hiddleston was easily the best of the bunch. Despite the Hallmark Special feel of a number of the earlier scenes, Hiddleston charms his way through the dialogue, doing a good job at fostering mystery with an undercurrent of the unwholesome. The exchanges between he and Wasikowska are deserving of a better film, and show how good this one should have been. Also, you get to see his bum.

II. The Effects.

I get the feeling that a lot of money was spent on CGI for this film. Between the ghosts (which, I’m told, did a nice job with bone structure – from an anatomical perspective) to the ever-present, crappily-rendered butterflies, altogether too much money.

The set design, as promised in the trailer, was great. The mansion set piece was one of the best things about the whole production. It was over the top. Hole in the roof, letting leaves/snow heap in the middle of the entry hall, walls weeping red sludge (the Sharpe family land is built on red clay, the industrial use of which is their hoped-for ticket to returned wealth), beautifully sinister wooden architecture, mysterious, locked rooms, and an industrial dungeon of a basement, it was great.

It's a fixer-upper.

It’s a fixer-upper.

And that’s the trouble – the mansion, complete with stereotypically solitary moorland manservant, the bony, effervescent ghosts – they’re tropes. Tropes that don’t sync. The mansion looks like it would be at home in a Wuthering Heights written by Alan Moore. The ghosts would fit nicely in a modern, shock-horror. Together, they don’t really flow.

Another outlier – the violence. The sheer graphicness of it is unsettling. The foley artists did a commendable job throughout – technical elements of the film were of a pretty high calibre, save some bad falls. But here, well, I’m not sure where one actually acquires the knowledge to recognise those sounds, let alone reproduce them, and I’m content to remain ignorant. del Toro seems to have a bit of a fetish for damage to the face. I can attest, it’s effective. There was a moment – you’ll know the one I’m talking about if you’ve the poor luck to see this monstrosity – where it looked like I might have another crack at my reaction to the caesarean in Prometheus. Tunnel vision ahoy.

III. The Production

This one somewhat overlaps with the previous section, but there are distinctions that set it apart.

I mentioned the technical skill on display in most elements of the film above. The foley work was great, the set and costuming sumptuous, the cinematography tight.

The directing looked like it fell off a cliff. The whole things seems like something very strange may have happened in post. ADR really sloppily overlayed. Weird cuts and sewing together of scenes that take the film in what feels like, not necessarily a broken narrative, because there is a through-line there, but like something on a queer slant.

The narrative is there, but there is something about the way the piece is cobbled together that doesn’t allow the obvious cues to sync with the story as a whole. You’ll go from these strange, super camp scene cuts – the screen going black as the focus is pulled in to a circle around a face or an object, hammily underscoring the importance thereof – to bog standard horror clichés of atonal strings and sudden movements behind characters. There is no atmospheric continuity. Also, we get ghosts, right off the bat. In a film that is doing everything else in it’s power to build suspense. Can’t have your cake and eat it, too, I’m afraid.

Honestly, the last time I saw a film this schizophrenic would have to be Splice, which from one moment to the next was body-horror to slapstick comedy to disturbing incestual assault. Actually, that’s sounding really quite similar…

Crimson Peak – don’t see it. And you won’t, because it’s been pulled. All too appropriately. Time for a shower.

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Posted on October 28, 2015, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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