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Crimson Peak (2015)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/9/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/28/2016

Have you ever had a co-worker who you really liked as a person, but their work was sub-par? This creates an awkward situation. You enjoy speaking with them, but at some point, you're going to have to critique their performance. This is how I feel about Guillermo del Toro. I admire the fact that he is a true devotee of science fiction and horror. When he talks about these genres, I don't doubt that he knows what he's talking about. But, while he can talk a good game, I've never truly loved a movie that he's directed. They each have their bright spots, but they don't work as a whole. But, when del Toro announced that he was making a haunted house movie, I must admit that I was interested, as this is a genre which needs more quality films. Does Crimson Peak change my opinion on del Toro?

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a smart, opinionated young woman, who eschews the trappings of high society in turn of the century Buffalo, New York, despite the fact that her father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), is a successful businessman. Edith is delighted to learn that her dear friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) has returned from a trip abroad. Meanwhile, Englishman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has come to America seeking funding for is new mining machine. Despite the fact that his presentation to Mr. Cushing doesn't go well, he still appears at a society function with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith is immediately attracted to Thomas and their whirlwind courtship results in marriage, despite Carter's objections. The newlyweds travel to Thomas' ancestral home in England, which is a decaying mansion. Edith attempts to make herself at home, but she Lucille is very cold towards her. Even worse, Edith begins to find evidence around the house that Thomas and Lucille may be hiding a deadly secret.

So, let's review. In the first paragraph, I mentioned "haunted house movie". But, in the second paragraph, where we have the synopsis of the film, we don't find the words "haunted house" or "ghost". Why is that? It's because Crimson Peak isn't really a haunted house movie. Are there ghosts in the film? Yes, there are. From a young age, Edith has had the ability to see ghosts, beginning with the specter of her dead mother. These phantoms appear to her to send warnings. Throughout the two-hour movie, there is a about two minutes tops of ghosts. To the film's credit, the ghosts do have a unique look. Many of them are a solid color, such as all black or all red. Tendrils of ectoplasm float upward from the apparitions, giving them the appearance of being underwater. del Toro fans will note that the ghosts in The Devil's Backbone had a very similar look. Other than giving warnings, the ghosts don't really do much and their arrivals in the movie feel very random.

Well, Crimson Peak isn't a haunted house movie or a horror movie, as the advertisements implied, then what is it? It's a period-piece gothic romance....and not a very good one at that. Take away the brief appearances by the ghosts and one brutal murder, and all that's left is a sweeping romance which turns into a thriller towards the end. The movie can be broken down into three sections: we have the meet-cute with Edith and Thomas, their move to England, and the revelation of secrets. The story unfolds at a very natural pace, but then del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins simply tip their hat far too early. Even the most novice film-goer will figure out the "twist" about halfway through the movie and then it's a matter of going throw the motions and waiting for the ending. (And I won't call this a plothole, but I had a huge problem with the fact that Edith, who grew up in the lap of luxury, wouldn't have a problem with the situation in which her new husband was asking her to movie into a house which was missing part of its roof!)

Crimson Peak further supports a theory which I've had for a long time -- del Toro is a gifted visual director, but he has a hard time telling a story. The lavish sets in the house and the re-creation of old Buffalo is very impressive and del Toro clearly knew how to stretch his $55 million budget, and many of the scenes are well-shot, but they are simply not interesting. (Part of the blame must also go to Mia Wasikowska, an actress who is incredibly bland. I'm not sure who it is that is determined to make her a star.) When I look at del Toro's resume, it's the movies which has produced -- The Orphanage, Splice, Mama -- which really stand out to me. Crimson Peak proves to be another disappointment, one which may actual anger those who arrived expecting an actual horror movie.

Crimson Peak offer more symbolism than actual story on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, most notably the reds (as one would hope) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is quite impressive and the foreground and background are clearly separate and the image is never soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which really takes off once the action moves to the old house. We get a very nice mixture of surround sound and stereo effects, as noises come from all over the house. The sounds are very distinct and nicely separated. Subwoofer effects punctuate the (few) horror and action scenes, but never overwhelm the dialogue.

The Crimson Peak Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Co-Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. All of these are brief and don't introduce any new characters or subplots. "I Remember Crimson Peak" is a four-part series -- "The Gothic Corridor" (4 minutes), "The Scullery" (4 minutes), "The Red Clay Mines" (5 minutes), and "The Limbo Fog Set" (6 minutes) -- which focuses on specific sets in the film and what they represent. "A Primer on Gothic Romance" (6 minutes) has Del Toro and the cast discussing the definition of "gothic romance" and how the sub-genre grew. "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak" (8 minutes) examines the look of the film, beginning with the re-creation of old Buffalo, and then moving into how Buffalo differed from the house in England. This includes some concept art and views of the sets. "Hand Tailored Gothic" (9 minutes) has Costume Designer Kate Hawley and Del Toro look at the costumes and how each character had a theme in their clothing. "A Living Thing" (12 minutes) provides an overview of the design of Allerdale Hall and how it was created to meet Del Toro's vision. "Beware of Crimson Peak" (8 minutes) has Hiddleston providing a tour of the sets, proclaiming them to be the most impressive that he's seen. (Even more than Thor?). We see how the ghosts were designed and created in "Crimson Phantoms" (7 minutes).

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long