Booga-booga, it’s Burl, here to review the latest work from that portly master of the McBare, Guillermo Del Toro! We last heard from him with the battling robots and beasts of Pacific Rim, and now here he is down in the spookhouse, showing us some ghosts, but, ha ha, not too many ghosts!
Because, you see, this is not really a ghost picture, we are told, but a Gothic romance in the vein of Jane Eyre or Rebecca! Fair bananas says I, but I can tell you what it really is, ha ha: an updated, much overextended version of one of Roger Corman’s old Poe pictures! Shortened by half an hour, and with the insertion of Vincent Price, or even Ray “Premature Burial” Milland, into the part of the plummy Cumbrian baronet here played by Tom “Only Lovers Left Alive” Hiddleston, this would be virtually indistinguishable from one of those crushed-velvet-and-ground-fog epics! Ha ha!
Mia Wasikowska, well-known from Stoker, plays a young lady novelist from Buffalo who meets and subsequently marries the aforementioned baronet, who, with his grumpy sister, is abroad searching for investors in his clay-digging machine! The sister is played by Jessica Chastain from The Tree of Life, and her performance is the best in the picture, or at least the most in tune with its demands! Ha ha, it’s funny that del Toro hired an Englishwoman to play an Americaness, and an Americaness to play an Englishwoman! And it was all shot in Canada, which I suppose makes sense too!
Anyway, the young American, named Miss Cushing of course, has met ghosts before, so when some turn up at her ludicrously dilapidated new abode, she exhibits about as much alarm as others would on espying a doodle bug scurrying across the floor! Ha ha, I’d sure be a little more alarmed than she is! Eventually just about everything you suspect is happening proves to indeed be happening, while no further plot wrinkles are explored! The only thing that really is explored is the old mansion itself, which has an open roof through which snow gently falls, and floorboards which ooze the red muck for which the crumbling old pile, and the picture itself, is named!
While the ghostly elements are a bit lacking and the scares few and far between, the romantic material is pushed as far as it can go! That’s not terribly far, but still, del Toro does weave an atmosphere of genuine tragedy, present and past! It’s just too bad it plays out in such a narritavely dull, if pictorially attractive, manner! A little bit of gore spices up the brew, ha ha, though this could easily have been elided for that important PG-13 rating, I suppose! I’m impressed with del Toro for sticking to his guns on that one, as I’m sure there was considerable pressure on him to stay in the tween-safe zone - the demographic for which the picture is ostensibly intended, remember! - and the disappointing box office is probably being held against him now!
I’m always rooting for the success of original horror projects, even ones so imperfect as this, so I was hoping it would be a hit! Ha ha, I want more R-rated big-screen scare pictures! It’s a pretty perennial genre though, so I’m not too worried! In the meantime, I guess I’ll give Crimson Peak two big vats of tomato paste and urge young Mr. del Toro to go full-throttle horror next time! Ha ha!