From an early age, the ghost of her dead mother has haunted Edith (Mia Wasikowska). A terrifying visage, dressed in black, the ghost appears warning her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Many years later, Edith is an aspiring young writer who finds herself courted by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet visiting Buffalo, New York in hopes of securing funding for a project at his home estate. Thomas’ estate is built over a ground of red clay that he hopes to mine. Leakage from this clay has a way of bubbling up through cracks in the ground, often creating a crimson effect throughout the estate.
Crimson Peak is one of those films that’s entertaining while you’re watching it, but really doesn’t hold together once you start thinking about it afterward. It begins as a spook-filled Victorian tale of gothic horror. I was impressed to see Guillermo del Toro delivering a somewhat staid, classic terror tale with an emphasis on mood and atmosphere. I was curious where he was going with the story, and what dark secrets were going to be revealed. What happens instead is that the film, inexplicably switches gears towards the ending, becoming more of an over-the-top violent action feature mixed with unconvincing and unnecessary melodrama. Characters begin to behave in ways that are contradictory, and plot threads are dangled and then forgotten. The supernatural elements are abandoned without explanation, and the final scene, where the story reaches its climax, is outright stupid.
I hate to tell people not to see this movie, because I really wanted to like it. I love that so much time and effort was put into creating such a lush and opulent Victorian world filled with style and atmosphere. I thought its use of sound was particularly effective and I thought the ghosts, if overdone, did manage to give the feeling of good, old-fashioned funhouse thrills. It did hold my interest through much of the movie, and I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. However, it really needed to either be more of a full-blooded, gothic horror story or it needed to go all the way over the top with the action and violence. What it did, instead, was deliver something that felt half-baked. It was slow moving, trying to build atmosphere and mystery, for much of the film. Then it completely ditched the mystery before there was any great reveal or explanation, and instead descended into scenes of comic book violence. There’s enough mood and visuals to the movie that I’d hesitate to tell people to just skip it, but taken on the whole it has too many plot holes and never manages to quite gel.