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Jessica Chastain shines in otherwise dull ‘Crimson Peak’ | The Triangle

Jessica Chastain shines in otherwise dull ‘Crimson Peak’

Photo courtesy Universal Pictures
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro returns to dark fantasy after his break from the genre to do film 2013’s Kaiju action movie, “Pacific Rim.” His latest work, “Crimson Peak” is a self-proclaimed “gothic romance” story and stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston as a less evil Loki and Jessica Chastain, who plays a perfect psychopath.
“Crimson Peak” opens with the death of Edith Cushing’s (Wasikowska) mother. That night, Edith is visited by a ghastly black shadow, which appears to be the figure of her mother, warning her to “beware of Crimson Peak.”
It is the early 19th century and we see Edith, now a young woman, working on her novel. She struggles to find a publisher because no one is willing to buy a ghost novel written by a woman, especially without a love story. As she types in her father’s office, a mysterious British gentleman, who is in town looking for a loan from her father, reads a page and explains he too believes in ghosts. However, this flattery does not get Thomas Sharpe (played by the captivating Tom Hiddleston) far, as Edith’s father (Jim Beaver) soon denies him a loan for his mining invention.
Edith and Thomas begin to spend more time together. Her father soon becomes suspicious and employees the help of Holly (Burn Gorman) to discover what this Sir Sharpe and his sister, Lucille (Chastain), are hiding. Before Thomas can ask for Edith’s hand in marriage, her father discovers the family secret and pays them to leave at once. The next morning Mr. Cushing is murdered by an unknown assailant and Thomas asks Edith to marry him, as there is no longer anyone to stop him.
Months pass and Edith and the Sharpe family have moved back to their estate in England. She soon discovers there is more to the Sharpe family than meets the eye, as the spirits that are damned to walk the halls of Allerdale Hall begin to make their presences known.
Edith says it best while explaining to her publicist, “This is not a ghost story. It is a story with ghosts.” While “Crimson Peak” will send shivers down your spine, it is not meant to jump off the screen at you. It is meant to be suspenseful, slowly building the stakes until someone reaches their tipping point.
I believe the misunderstanding between what this movie is and how it has been advertised has caused some let down in theaters, especially with an October release date. While the Halloween season is usually used to capitalize on people who feel the need to see something “spooky,” regardless if it’s any good, it was probably not the best time for “Crimson Peak” to be released. If anything, it probably backfired.
What is good about the film, on the other hand, was the “power couple” of Hiddleston and Chastain. From his role in “Thor” and “The Avengers” as the lovable mischief bringer Loki, everyone knows Hiddleston can be enjoyable to watch, even while playing the antagonist. However, what came as a pleasant surprise was Chastain’s ability to play off the mystery created by Hiddleston. Chastain was in the back of every scene, seemingly for no reason at all: until the third act, where she takes over and single handedly makes the movie worth watching.
It is easy to simply scare an audience with things popping out left and right, but it is much harder to make everyone feel uncomfortable and simultaneously make everyone want to root for you.
It is difficult to think of a house that fits a movie more perfectly than Allerdale Hall fits “Crimson Peak.” As Edith spends her first night in this crumbling masterpiece of a building, a breeze blows through and she grabs onto Sharpe. The fireplace rages up as the house seems to take a deep breath in, making it very evident that Allerdale Hall is far more than just a set — it is a character in itself.
While I commend this movie for its unique tone and character development, del Toro and Mathew Robbins didn’t get everything right. At times, especially in the beginning, the pacing was oddly slow, and it felt as though the story was hardly advancing. A suspenseful thriller should keep you on the edge of your seat, fearing for the characters with unanswered questions. However, “Crimson Peak” makes you ask the wrong questions — “Where is this story line leading?” and “Who am I supposed to be afraid of?” — for the better part of the first half of the movie.
Chastain’s performance and the setting itself were some of this movie’s strongest assets and for most of the movie you are completely left in the dark as to why they are important.
Although the movie did take a while to get moving, once it did it was off to the races. Had the final act not been so satisfying, I could say this movie was, for the most part, a letdown. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys Guillermo del Toro, Jessica Chastain or gothic romance.