CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
It's a great shame to report, but Crimson Peak is a disappointment. This was one of the very few films of the year I was actually excited to see: I was looking forward to it in the way that I just don't for most films - even the new James Bond or the new Star Wars - and I left the cinema having watched a film that was very good but not great: it's perfectly okay. Normally "perfectly okay" is a decent enough result (especially given a lot of the thoroughly unremarkable films out there) but coming from Guillermo Del Toro I was hoping for more. This is not to suggest that Crimson Peak is a bad movie - it absolutely isn't - but when you've made The Devil's Backbone, Pacific Rim and Pan's Labyrinth the bar is that much higher than for, say, Michael Bay.
Less a horror film than a melodramatic Gothic romance (admittedly one with genuinely scary ghosts in it), it's very dialogue heavy and takes surprisingly long to get into gear. In New York in the late 19th century, classically handsome but impoverished English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his frankly creepy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) try to secure funding for his revolutionary new clay scooping machine. He's turned down by industrial baron Cushing (Jim Beaver), but falls in love with Cushing's authoress daughter Edith (Mia Wasikowska). Or does he? Is it more about her inheritance when Cushing suddenly dies violently?
Storywise, the movie is lush romantic tosh of the Rebecca and Jane Eyre school with the old dark house full of secrets, the naive and winsome heroine, the creepy sister who is plainly mad as a bag of hammers. The ghosts are creepy, though not as creepy as in The Devil's Backbone, but these are the kind of movie ghosts whose method of communicating with the living is to scare the living soot out of them and speak in frustratingly cryptic riddles that won't make any sense at all for twenty years. And for all the visual panache - and it has visual panache by the ton - Crimson Peak is curiously inert dramatically. Early scenes have the feel of The Age Of Innocence with its elite New York class distinctions and formally mannered socialising, but once the film moves to the wilds of Cumberland and the Sharpe family mansion, literally sinking into the crimson clay, events do pick up. Allerdale Hall, crumbling and decaying even as you look at it, is a marvellously dark and morbid locale (it's a pity we never see the house spectacularly destroyed).
But, much like the house, Crimson Peak never seems to catch fire and roar into life. It looks great, it's gorgeously photographed with terrific costumes and production design, and there's a full-on orchestral score on top. Handsomely mounted it may be, my end feeling was that it's good but not great, though this may well be one of those films that needs a second viewing to work its full magic - that's a prospect I certainly don't dread, and in the days after seeing it it's already growing on me. [Disclaimer: I saw Crimson Peak under less than ideal circumstances, as my local 'plex left the 3D filter on from the previous film, substantially draining the image of colour and vibrancy.]