There will be blood on Crimson Peak.
Universal Studios, the movie company releasing “Crimson Peak,” describes this chiller as a Gothic romance. It’s that and more. It’s a Gothic romantic-horror-detective-thriller.
The unmistakable touch of Guillermo del Toro — the Mexican writer-director behind “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy” — can’t be missed in “Crimson Peak.”
Despite sequences that are among the most chilling in any del Toro movie, “Crimson Peak” is an oddly uneven movie mutt. Some sections of the film, especially the American-set, early part of the story, play as if they’re in a movie other than “Crimson Peak.” These sunny sequences happen before Mia Wasikowska’s young American heiress travels to England with her new husband.
Wasikowska, the young Australian actress, stars as Edith Cushing, daughter of a rich American industrialist. Edith is also an aspiring novelist. She meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British baronet who, his fancy but faded hat in hand, has come to ask her father to finance a clay-mining operation in England.
Edith already has a worthy suitor in American Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), but Sharpe’s warm, lyrical English accent and fine prose are persuasive.
Hiddleston is well-placed as Sharpe, a charming man with a dark past. Sharpe shows a warm exterior to Edith, but he’s actually worse than a scoundrel. Nonetheless, his courting performance wins Edith’s heart. He easily displaces the comparatively ordinary Dr. McMichael.
As the script drives Edith through her scary, investigative paces, Wasikowska, who’s in most of the movie’s scenes, earns her leading-lady billing. At 26, the actress has already built an impressive filmography, including the title character in the excellent 2011 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.”
Like Jane, Edith falls in love with the master of a great English house. Allerdale Hall, the house on Crimson Peak, is a Gothic mansion in alarming decline. Snow falls through the entrance hall roof. Clay the color of blood seeps through the mansion’s floorboards.
Allerdale Hall is a house of horrors, but Edith is better prepared for the challenges the house poses than others. Having seen her first ghost at 10, she’s attuned to spirits and receptive to their messages.
As well played as Edith and Sharpe are by Wasikowska and Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain’s performance as Edith’s piano-playing sister-in-law, Lady Lucille Sharpe, is a rare misstep for the Oscar-nominated actress. Chastain’s dark-hued Victorian costumes are eye-catching, but her performance never locks the Lucille character in place.
The movie’s costumes plus Allerdale Hall’s foreboding exterior and skeletal interior help set a tone of dread. Del Toro and his special-effects team also release chilling ghosts. But the rather ordinary violence in the film’s bloody, blade-slashing, head-bashing fights mostly lack imagination.
It’s the genuine frights found elsewhere in the film and the Gothic world of horror del Toro creates plus Wasikowska’s and Hiddleston’s performances that make “Crimson Peak” worthy of being a destination for horror and fantasy fans.