As Halloween night draws closer and closer, passionate film buffs and casual viewers flock to the nearest multiplex to see the latest in horror cinema, or plop on the couch to binge-watch as many creepy flicks as possible. You might find more people eager to watch or re-watch classic horror films at home and/or on Netflix, and it is easy to understand why. The truth is an old saying of course, but they really don't make 'em like they used to. There have been a few innovative tweaks made to the genre over the past few years, but many have failed to conjure up real terror and nightmare inducing scares for audiences. This year, acclaimed filmmaker, Guillermo del Toro, steps in as a would-be savior for those hoping for something truly terrifying. His new film, "Crimson Peak," isn't exactly a horror film, but when it tries to be creepy, it only does just that. It tries and it fails, resulting in a film that is a series of missed opportunities for del Toro to scare our pants off.
Set in the 19th century, young writer, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), becomes smitten with handsome baronet, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). They soon marry and move into Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe family home, where Thomas's mysterious sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), awaits them. Not long after Edith settles in, she is plagued night after night with ghostly encounters that all warn her to beware of the Sharpe siblings and their dark intentions.
"Crimson Peak" is first and foremost an old-fashioned Gothic romance, and del Toro clearly demonstrates early on that he knows exactly how it should play out. To casual viewers, the film might be nothing more than a predictable melodrama. The more seasoned movie-goer will regard it as a pleasant throwback to an era of horror where noisy jump scares weren't necessary to disturb viewers. However, it is del Toro's distinct style that surprisingly weakens the effort instead of strengthening it.
The film's narrative aesthetics take a great deal of inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's, "Rebecca" and other works of fiction such as "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." Added to the mix are thematic elements del Toro has recycled from his earlier works. The film's representation of ghosts bares an incredible resemblance to that of "The Devil's Backbone," and Edith's character arc slightly echoes Ofelia's from "Pan's Labyrinth." This combination should have been a match made in horror heaven, but its fault lies in del Toro's mistake for believing that rehashing material from his best films would breathe new life into the Gothic genre.
On the bright side, "Crimson Peak" is visually gorgeous. Inspiration from archaic storytelling truly pays off when it comes to the look of the film. Attention to detail in the monumental set design and lavish costumes should be duly noted by other horror directors. Performances are another high point in "Crimson Peak." Wasikowska may not have a lot to do besides wander around in beautiful dresses and hold a candelabra at night, but she makes the best of her part. Hiddleston does a marvelous job as Thomas, playing against male love interest tropes and keeping the audience guessing where his loyalties truly lie. Chastain arguably steals the show here, adding a level of depth and understanding to Lucille that you're unlikely to find in other characters like her.
"Crimson Peak" is also not without a few eerie moments. Though they may not be as nightmarish as del Toro thinks they are, they do well enough to elicit some nervous murmurs from the audience. Sound design plays a crucial part in these moments, and there are some pretty ghoulish noises made here and there. In the end, "Crimson Peak" only serves del Toro's self-indulgence as the kind of film that he would've loved to see during his formative years. With a big-budget studio and a talented cast by his side, del Toro succeeds in fulfilling his own fantasies, but forgets to answer the prayers of horror fans who continue to long for a film that will restore their faith in the spooky genre.