[Screen It]


(2015) (Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston) (R)

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Horror: A young woman of the late 19th century moves to her new husband's dilapidated, English mansion and must contend not only with supernatural events there, but also her husband's creepy sister.
It's the late 19th century and Edith Cushing (MIA WASIKOWSKA) is a young, aspiring author who lives in Buffalo with her rich, builder father, Carter Cushing (JIM BEAVER). While handsome local doctor Alan McMichael (CHARLIE HUNNAM) is obviously interested in Edith, she's set her sights on Thomas Sharpe (TOM HIDDLESTON) who's recently arrived from England in hopes of raising capital for his clay mining machine. Carter is immediately suspicious of Thomas and his off-putting sister, Lucille (JESSICA CHASTAIN), and hires a private detective, Holly (BURN GORMAN), to check into them.

His findings don't sit well with Carter, who agrees to pay off Thomas to leave. But before that happens, Carter is brutally murdered, resulting in Edith eventually moving to England with new husband Thomas to the dilapidated mansion, Allerdale Hall, that he owns with Lucille and that sits atop a clay mine. Lucille is cold toward Edith, which leaves the latter unsettled, as do a number of supernatural encounters with ghost corpses that start popping up with a startling, increasing frequency. At the same time, Alan becomes suspicious of Carter's death and how that relates to Edith now living with Thomas and his sister.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Anytime you hear someone utter something along the lines of "They don't make 'em like they used to" that is either from a middle-aged or older person longing for the days of yesteryear when things were seemingly (but not always) made or done better, or they're a younger fan who's latched onto quality stuff from long ago.

Any longtime reader of my reviews knows that aside from an exception here and there, they don't make horror films like they used to. Excessive gore, an over-reliance on jump scenes and related startle-based scares, and most everyone copying what everyone else is doing in the genre has led to pics that might spook the easily scared. Yet, they don't do anything for us hardier movie-watching souls who'd rather be unsettled and spooked long-term than simply frightened in the moment.

Give me the likes of "The Exorcist" and "The Shining" any day over most anything contemporary. Of course, my "not like they used to" complaint doesn't mean a filmmaker needs to go back further in style than those now three to four decade old films. Yet, that's exactly what Guillermo Del Toro has done with "Crimson Peak." And that got me somewhat excited considering he's the filmmaker behind suburb genre offerings such as "The Devil's Backbone" and especially "Pan's Labyrinth."

Set in the late 19th century, the tale the director co-penned with Matthew Robbins has the lush demeanor and feel of a gothic horror film from the 1950s or '60s, albeit with a more extravagant budget. Production design is exquisite for all of the settings, but most notably that of Allerdale Hall, the sort of old, decrepit mansion that gave me nightmares as a child watching those movies of old set in such places.

It's there that an Englishman (Tom Hiddleston) has returned with his new bride (Mia Wasikowska) following the death of her father (Jim Beaver) that all believe was an accident, but we know was murder due to a particularly graphic attack scene we witness. The mansion sits atop an old clay mine that oozes upward into the place, while snow, leaves and such fall down through the rotted ceiling and floors.

No doubt it's a perfect setting for spooky stuff to occur, especially since the man's sister (Jessica Chastain) has the sort of unhinged meets disgusted meets condescendingly irked gaze that signals she's obviously going to be trouble. And since Del Toro and company introduce a ghostly encounter from the get-go before our protagonist ever meets her future groom, we know more such ghastly and ghostly visits are lurking somewhere around the corner. And that a would-be hero (Charlie Hunnam) will likely arrive just in the nick of time to try to save our damsel in distress.

Here's the rub, however. It's not that scary. Sure, there are creepy and creaky supernatural figures who show up, glide across the floor and such, along with corpses bathed in a title colored goo. And there are plenty of jump scenes and human treachery and murderous intent.

But aside from the related special effects and throwback look to old horror films, it's just more of the same sort of recent material that simply doesn't have the ability to get under your skin, unnerve you, and give you goose bumps at random moments back home. To further dilute matters, the story and character motivations and upcoming behavior are too easy to predict and thus contain few if any surprises for anyone paying even just slight attention to the narrative.

I appreciate what Del Toro and company are going for, and commend all of the homage to the classic horror flicks of old and even the filmmaking styles from them (including the use of closing iris fade-outs from one scene to the next). And perhaps my expectations bar was set unusually high based on the brilliance of "Pan's Labyrinth."

Whatever the case, I simply didn't find much of this scary, spooky or unsettling, one or more of which needs to occur to come off as a great horror film in my book. Mind you, it's not bad and gets a slight recommendation, but I was just expecting so much more than modern day "scares" wrapped in the visual trappings and tone of old. "Crimson Peak" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 13, 2015 / Posted October 16, 2015

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