(US - 2015)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Bruce Grey, Jonathan Hyde, Sofia Wells, Emily Coutts. (R, 119 mins)
It seems as if all of Guillermo del Toro's films are long-gestating dream projects he's had toiling in the deepest recesses of his mind since he was a child. He announces more projects that he can possibly make (face it, kids--PACIFIC RIM 2 ain't happening) and there's seemingly no end to his boundless imagination and love for what he does. Del Toro's latest, CRIMSON PEAK, is an absolute triumph of style, set design, costuming, and an almost choking Gothic aura. Among the most ambitious of throwback homages, it plays like a never-made film where Alfred Hitchcock chose Mario Bava to be his cinematographer. It's the realization of what might've happened if Merchant-Ivory remade THE SHINING and moved it to Victorian-era England. Owing as much to Henry James, Daphne du Maurier, Charlotte Bronte, and Edith Wharton as it does to THE HAUNTING THE CHANGELING, and del Toro's own back catalog, CRIMSON PEAK is more of a supernatural Gothic tragedy than a non-stop frightfest, which isn't to imply that it skimps on the shocks and the gore. The jolting scares and the shocking violence are sporadic enough that del Toro makes them count. The found-footage and the digital splatter crowd will probably be bored senseless by CRIMSON PEAK--like the Wachowskis, del Toro is a visionary who still somehow manages to get studios to spend exorbitant amounts of money on his wildly inventive and very personal passion projects. CRIMSON PEAK is probably the best-looking film of the year, and it's a rare case where the surface beauty and visuals are stunning enough to give its writing and structural weaknesses a pass. The script, by del Toro and Matthew Robbins (his writing collaborator on MIMIC and the del Toro-produced DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK), with uncredited contributions from British playwright Lucinda Coxon, hinges on too many predictable plot twists and familiar elements you've seen in a hundred other Gothic dramas and ghost stories. Had the plot been a little more inventive and up to del Toro's standards of production design, he would've had a legitimate classic instead of the year's best-looking retread. The layout, the decor, the architecture--del Toro's attention to even the most minute aesthetic detail is obviously obsessive on a Stanley Kubrick level. As exquisitely and hypnotically jaw-dropping as CRIMSON PEAKS looks, it's obvious where del Toro's priorities lied.