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Movie review: ‘Crimson Peak’ never reaches scary heights

Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in “Crimson Peak.”
Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in “Crimson Peak.” Kerry Hayes

Mia Wasikowska’s character (Edith Cushing) in “Crimson Peak” is a novice writer. The one thing everyone notices is that her latest work deals with ghosts.

She’s quick to tell them that it’s not a ghost story but a story with a ghost.

The same can be said of “Crimson Peak.” The film is less about scares and more of a watered-down version of “Downton Abbey” meets “Game of Thrones.” The majority of the movie feels like the usual period piece about a pair of siblings who will go to any extreme to save their family home. Ghosts occasionally show up to point out clues.

More attention to the terror and less to the Victorian-style tale of love, betrayal and murder would have made the film far scarier.

After a brief prologue that introduces the first ghost, the film settles into events that unfold at the end of the 19th century. The bookwormish Cushing becomes the target of affection for Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). The Englishman has come to America to convince Cushing’s father that he should invest in an invention that can easily extract red clay from the ground.

A tragic event pushes Cushing into Sharpe’s arms and they wed. The new couple return to Sharpe’s home, accompanied by his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Their home is actually a dilapidated mansion that sits on land deep in red clay. Leaves and snow drift down from the massive hole in the roof. The red clay is rotting the floor below them.

Once settled in, Cushing begins to unravel the dark secrets of the Sharpe family. And the biggest secret is so obvious so early in the movie that when it is revealed it has little shock value.

Hiddleston works because he looks like he could have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. You could easily see him standing on the moors pining for a lost love.

Sadly, Wasikowska turns in such a milque-toast performance that there’s little reason to either fall in love with or care about her character. She’s just annoying. Cushing wears glasses, which are spotlighted so much they would seem to be a key point for the film. They are not.

Completing this strange trio is Chastain, whose performance isn’t over-the-top enough to suggest the pure insanity of the character. That side begins to emerge when the film shifts to a more grotesque effort to get a reaction. It’s too little and way too late.

“Crimson Peak” has a look that features nice contrasts between the bleakness of the countryside and the disheveled ornate look of the mansion. That same creativity is not used in the creation of the ghosts, with director Guillermo del Toro returning to the elongated creatures he’s used in the past.

Advertising for the film suggests this is a nonstop ride into terror. It’s actually a story where the twists are transparent and the surprises come at snail’s pace. The pacing by del Toro is so slow that by the time a ghost does show up, it’s more apt to wake the audience than scare them.

The film is being hyped as coming from the creative talent behind “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a film by del Toro that was an incredibly creative look at the weird.

But, it’s been almost a decade since del Toro made that film. This time, his horror skills don’t have the same edge or originality. That makes this a film that should have been called “Crimson Bleak” or “Crimson Weak.”

CRIMSON PEAK

1/2 out of 5

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam.

Director: Guillermo del Toro..

Running time: 1:59.

Rated: R, for bloody violence, sexual content, language.

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