Movie Reviews

Review: “Crimson Peak” Is a Button Masher

[springboard type=”video” id=”1574105″ player=”tmbg001″ width=”599″ height=”336″ ]

In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.

 

I don’t like videogames. I think Roger Ebert was right. They suck. Well, he didn’t say exactly that. But he said they aren’t an art form. And they aren’t. Movies got them beat in art and entertainment. Take that videogames, with your stupid graphics and basic dumb plots. What I don’t like about videogames could fill a book no one would read. But it’d be long. You can bet on that.

When I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s newest, Crimson Peak, I smelled something on its breath I didn’t like. I got real up close, front row close. I like sitting in the first few rows, because the light from the screen provides light for my notes, and I can stretch my legs, and I feel as if I’m alone in my own private movie theater. But on this viewing all I could see were the markings of a really great videogame, which translates to a bad movie.

Okay, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was enjoyable. But what I didn’t like about it spoiled everything it had going for it. So it goes. Crimson Peak is one of the first times I can remember not going ape over a contemporary director reviving a classic and/or lost genre. But the video game-ish effects are the sum of the problem. Del Toro digging up the relic that is gothic horror sounded like a great idea. But there’s something unsatisfying about Crimson Peak. Maybe it’s because it feels like any old movie, though “any old movie” usually means a putrid piece of junk. So I suppose I;m at a loss for where to place this one.

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Pauline Kael wrote about movies some fifty-plus years ago that she feared only the poor and underdeveloped people without any knowledge of the medium could do something new and important with it. A bit condescending, but the boss lady has a point. And she wrote these words fifty years ago. Think of how little there is left to do with movies in 2015. Del Toro doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but I want directors to always be trying to reinvent the wheel. Is that too much to ask? Well I think paying north of fifteen dollars to see a movie is too much to ask of me and my fellow moviegoers, but nobody at Regal Cinema in the New York City area is a doing a damn thing about that. Why should I compromise? I’m going to die someday, and I don’t want to think of the best films I saw in 2015 and remember Crimson Peak.

The narrative is simple, logical, and subduing. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), writer (the next Jane Austen even) and daughter to an American industrialist, is charmed by a snaky Englishman (Tom Hiddleston), and is whisked away from her upper crest American life to a large manor in England. The Englishman has a sister (played by Jessica Chastain in a fine loose cannon performance), who makes every moment uncomfortable, and a ghost who happens to be Edith’s dead mother’s spirit, warning Edith to stay away from a place called Crimson Peak. If only she knew ahead of time the unfortunate nickname her new digs went by.

blood-ghost-from-crimson-peak-2015-images

While nothing is off about Del Toro’s latest, nothing is worth clenching your butt about. The first time we see the ghost, it is clad in black, and spooky enough to have you grabbing for blanket to hide under. The next few times we see it, and some other ghost buddies, it looks like something out of the digitized worlds my friends inhabit from their couch on a Wednesday night. Nothing is less appetizing on the big screen than special effects intended for the boob tube. The reason videogames, with all their violence and scare tactics and such, are kid friendly is because it all looks so stupid, it’d be hard for it to truly mess you up. It doesn’t look good, like the opening credits to Game of Thrones, or the earth shattering special effects in the unofficial Pochahantas remake, Avatar. This is the one huge drawback of CGI graphics running amok. Everything looks dumb, no matter how menacing, realistic, or impactful the intention. And Del Toro does nothing to salvage their disappointing effect. In Pan’s Labyrinth, he juxtaposed a little girl’s fantastic fantasy world with the vicious actions of a brutish army officer. The horrid reality she lived made her fantasy world more vital, sanding off its Muppets-like, Disney-esque details. Even Pacific Rim, steeped in the awesomely goofy traditions of Japanese Kaiju films, had a dedication to its plot that glorified it to the right pitch to make us feel the gravity of the world being under attack. But Crimson Peak doesn’t do anything to help us buy into its conceit.

The desire to hit every mark of the gothic horror tradition left a void in the excitement of a modern ghost story. Surely if the melodrama were all that mattered, it would’ve been a stricter focus. Wasikowska, Chastain and Hiddleston put in some good work, but their performances felt boxed in instead of genre specific. The ghosts, as well, begin as warnings, but then continue on as harbingers of danger, their presence like a checkpoint to the next level. The story itself had the satisfied and simplistic logic of a videogame, even the modern ones that want so desperately to be more about the experience, the plot, the cinematic side of things, rather than the game itself. That’s a big reason why I hate videogames so much. They are just posers. When I occasionally play them, I spend more time watching scenes and listening to mind numbing dialogue than I do fiddling with joysticks and problem solving. It’s a virus that’s spread to television and its streaming service cousin, too, this cinematic virtue that seems to only mean better production values and more famous names attached to projects. But this has nothing really to do with what makes film great, or unique, or powerful. And all it seems to be doing is eliminating what makes videogames and television each succeed on their own terms. But to see a movie stoop to the levels of what I see in most videogames, genre or no genre, makes my heart burn.

Del Toro infuses some gruesome violence in a couple of scenes. I suppose this is to help differentiate this gothic ghost story from others, to put a little Del Toro in there. But even the violence is kid friendly in the unwholesome way blood splatters in first-person shooters and/or Grand Theft Auto type games. I didn’t like anything I was seeing in Crimson Peak, and yet I still enjoyed it. If only my damn brain could get on the same page with the other parts of my brain.

 

  • Acting - 7/10
    7/10
  • Cinematography - 7/10
    7/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 5/10
    5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 6/10
    6/10
  • Buyability - 5/10
    5/10
  • Recyclability - 3/10
    3/10
Overall
5.5/10
5.5/10
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