Review Roundup - Deep Red

CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots in a fashion, with a ghost story which is pretty far from the overblown schlock of Pacific Rim and Hellboy. Despite those features being intricately made and moderately entertaining, his body of work has always been stronger when it's without the action blockbuster mentality of his English language films. So with it was with a little trepidation I ventured into the grounds of Allerdale Hall, a none-more sinister household built with some rather unwelcoming architecture. The structure stands on a clay mine but this is like no terracotta I've ever seen, a seeping blood-red coloured earth which invades the building's plumbing and sometimes drips from the walls.


Things are not made any more amicable by it's owners, the Sharpe siblings Thomas (Tom Hiddlestone) and Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Fortunately these cold faces and Gothic features frame a much far more interesting piece of work than I anticipated, one that is as far from clunky quips and monster smack downs as you can imagine. I have to admit the opening gave off a few warning signals with bland bookend narration from our lead Edith (Mia Wasikowska), playing the least interesting role in the story. Which isn't great when she has to carry it. They do a thing where she's a writer but doesn't get accepted because of gender, and she doesn't care for the Victorian ideals of social interaction or being polite to her peers.

I get what they're aiming for but ideas don't translate to charisma and it feels anachronistic with so much period detail elsewhere. It's not helped when they wheel out Charlie Hunnam who tries to get her attention as blandest love interest in the land. They seem like a good match at least. The whole first segment is a bit of a false start until the dastardly duo arrive, which fortunately is where things get more interesting. Their plans to fund a new mining venture at the titular property is not quite what it seems, and they are clearly plotting something unsavoury behind the scenes. However their plan is soon in action, payments are made, blood is spilt and Edith falls for Sir Thomas. They make a less convincing couple but he's an underdog, he can dance, and he's got an interest in literature.

She's whisked away from the States to their totally-not-haunted house in England, where things get considerably more unnerving. Like past Del Toro releases regardless of genre, the visuals are impressive. The building is rich with detail which boosts the atmosphere well before that red clay begins to seep upwards through the winter snow. It's a film which feels very vibrant despite the amount of shadow, and the colours have been boosted in a way which bleeds everything together, from the strange green hue of night time to the orange glow of candlesticks. The set becomes another character complete with creepy portraits, hidden family secrets, mystery rooms and a locked basement that is off limits and never, ever to be visited.

While the effects are reminiscent of Devil's Backbone, with violence nearly as gruesome as Pan's Labyrinth; it feels at times like a throwback to the old Hammer horror Frankenstein stories or the Vincent Price version of Fall of the House Of Usher. The family name Cushing is included as an obvious nod. This is a slow burn and a exercise in mood, not a modern slasher. Which is pretty impressive in a recent period in horror full of twitchy found footage and cheap jump scares. Long stretches are devoted to character drama which lends it the air of a romance even if the real focus here is the ghostly figures in the bathtub and the scary new sister in law.

There is a contemporary use of gore and a few memorable horror moments that go beyond its late '50s and early '60s influences. But these inclusions are used sparingly until the very end where things begin to unravel and the madness takes hold entirely. It also maintains Del Toro's interest in machinery, gadgets and dressing Doug Jones in unwieldy prosthetics (even if some special effects work better than others). The first act is a bit weak and not all of the ghost designs translate into effective screen ideas - like the eponymous house the foundations are a bit shaky. But if you have the patience it's all pretty satisfying as a sinister mood piece and a spooky treat for the senses.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
LEGEND (2015)


Tom Hardy plays both of the infamous Kray brothers in this British gangster drama full of underworld violence and colourful language. It's about as entertaining as you'd expect from this premise and you'll know what to expect if you've seen any similar stories... even if the authenticity of how some of these real life events are portrayed is questionable at times. Reginald is the smooth talker with a nasty side that is often concealed, while Ronald is a complete crackpot just waiting for an excuse to bring out a claw hammer. How this pair manage to keep their clubs and casinos together while facing rival gangs and Scotland Yard is the engaging part of the narrative.

The third wheel however is Emily Browning as Reggie's love interest. She gets a lot of narration to do throughout, and unfortunately it's all pretty monotone. With the one actor as twins being such a central concept the amount of focus this extra material is distracting and the romantic melodrama undermines the rest of grim tone in a plot which includes a far more interesting sibling rivalry. The score (when not playing '60s pop) is also very odd at times, with an upbeat jazz guitar tune which seems at odds with the nastier plot elements being used. But when things start to deliver what the casting promised things do pick up, even when it all feels a little caricatured at times.

3/5