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Halloween Horror Week: Beware of Crimson Peak!

As I said yesterday, if Tim Burton's Corpse Bride were realized in live-action form, it might look like Guillermero del Toro's Crimson Peak, with the Gothic undertones, the themes of death and the supernatural and the semi Victorian-era setting. That's where the similarities would end, though. Whereas the former is a family-friendly fantasy musical/comedy, the latter is a dark, sinister and haunting picture that's gorgeous to watch in every regard. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), like Haley Joel Osmet in The Sixth Sense, can see dead people. Kidding, but she did experience some paranormal activity when she was a little girl, as she witnesses her mother's ghost, warning her of a place called Crimson Peak, and yes, that will be the last time I make a lame horror pun in this review. Years later, she's still fascinated with the supernatural, as she's writing a ghost story, in addition to being married to the charming and mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who visited New York to get a loan for his clay mining invention. Once Edith leaves her home to live with Mr. Sharpe in England, she quickly realizes that not everything is what it seems, as the old, dilapidated estate she is now confined in has things going bump in the night, buried secrets of the estate hidden in the lower levels, and one cold ans sinister sister-in-law in the form of Lucille (the great Jessica Chastain).

I really can't go into anymore detail than this, because the film is just too good to spoil. What I can say is that del Toro's eye for stunning visuals and detail for mood and atmosphere is as good as it's ever been. If 2013's Pacific Rim was one big, glorious CGI set piece after another, then his latest mostly gets away from using digital effects and just goes for practical ones - gorgeous art direction and production design by Brant Gordon and Thomas Sanders, respectively, gorgeous camerawork and terrific use of light and shadow by Dan Lautsen and a sprinkling of CG use to enhance the overall look of the film. The thrill and the fear of venturing down to the lower levels, of uncovering these dark, almost-Freudian secrets both brother and sister have tucked away is at the heart of the film, and it should be no surprise that actors are more than up for the challenge. Hiddleston, best known for playing delusional demi-god Loki in the MCU installments of Thor and The Avengers wears the bad boy trope like a second skin, and he's solid as a baronet born into money but consumed by guilt. As our lead protagonist Wasikowska shines as the inquisitive Edith, as she struggles to understand the riddle of this old estate and to come to grips that the man of her dreams isn't who she thought he was. But it's Chastain as Lucille who owns this picture. She's playing her cards (as well as her demons) close to the chest, and she's willing to do anything to keep it that way. When as is revealed, she becomes a sort of Amy Dune of sorts - a woman who you, despite her actions, come to understand and have a sort of sympathy for the devil she's become. Plus, seeing Chastain as the heavy is deliciously fun to watch, and I hope we get to see more of the actress in that part in the years to come.

Crimson Peak is, on a technical level, Guillermero del Toro at his best - the sets, costumes, cinematography and use of practical effects all combine to craft a haunted house/ghost tale that feels like a send-up to movies like The Shining, The Haunting and Poltergeist where the house itself both acts as a character and the bogeyman itself. The performances by its three central leads are all damn good, but in terms of scares, they're few and far between. There are unsettling moments and the ghosts themselves are more eerie and disturbing that downright frightening. And the script by del Toro, while interesting, tends to let slip its secrets a bit too early, cultivating in a predictable third act. Still, despite those miscues, this is an entertaining and gorgeous blend of haunted house/ghost story/mystery genres that never gets old to get lost in. And sadly, speaking of ghosts; tomorrow, I salute the man who's found new ways to keep us up at night, as well as have bloody good fun poking fun at a genre he had defined again and again, by taking another turn down Elm Street.

*** stars out of ****

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