Entertainment

Horror fades and twists are telegraphed

What It’s About

With a lavish production design and macabre visual effects, “Crimson Peak” starts out gangbusters but then unravels when the scares dry up and the turgid gothic romance overtakes the plot.

In a pulpy throwback to classic horror films, director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) adroitly sets the scene for a frightening ghost story. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) loses her mother at an early age, but has a close relationship with her doting, well-to-do father.

She fancies herself a writer, and is an early feminist, but unfortunately, is swept away by a dashing Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British aristocrat seeking investors for his clay-mining company. Her father suspects a charlatan.

Oh, does he have secrets. His imperious, controlling sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is quite mysterious, too. After Edith marries Thomas, they move overseas and all settle into domesticity at Allerdale Hall, a decrepid manor on top a mountain of blood-red clay (hence, the crimson peak).

Allerdale is a haunted house of horrors, unnerving Edith. But the plucky gal starts investigating on her own. Her friend back home in Buffalo, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) suspects foul play, too, and he becomes an ally in the nick of time.

Performances

The cast is strong. Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) projects intelligence as the well-bred pawn in a twisted ploy. Heartthrob Hiddleston (“The Avengers”) conveys the appropriate darkness and danger, while also being debonair. Hunky Hunnam, who worked with the director in “Pacific Rim,” is believable as a virtuous suitor-family friend.

However, Jessica Chastain (“The Martian”), in icy, evil Mrs. Danvers mode, by the third act is way over-the-top as the villainness.

What Works

Del Toro presents a sumptuous gothic horror tableau. The Addams Family would fit right into the dilapidated and oh-so-creepy Allerdale Hall.

The film, intentional or not, has elements reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “Notorious,” “Suspicion” and “Rebecca.” That’s not a bad thing, but derivative.

The oozing red clay figures significantly into the story, and takes on a morbid life of its own.

What Doesn’t Work

Unfortunately, the thrills are front-loaded. Twists can be figured out before their reveal.

Still, there are scary moments to savor, and intense suspense. Had it been sustained, this would have been one frightening experience.

2 1/2 out of 4

  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Jim Beaver.
  • Rated: R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.
  • Length: 1:59
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