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      Crimson Peak Review

      Crimson Peak poster

      Crimson Peak

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      You may come out of the 1901-set Gothic chiller "Crimson Peak" humming the production design (by Thomas Sanders), or singing arias about the clothes (Kate Hawley, costume designer), or composing symphonies of praise for the mellow, honeyed menace of the cinematography (Dan Laustsen). If looks made the movie, and they can in the right circumstances, this movie would be made.

      "Crimson Peak" represents not-quite-right circumstances. It's the latest from co-writer and director Guillermo del Toro. The fantasist is best known for "Pan's Labyrinth," and he works very close to his subconscious when his cinematic and storytelling instincts are serving him well. But "Crimson Peak" is frustrating from nearly every angle. It lets the audience race ahead of the reveals, while struggling to put all that tantalizingly rich atmosphere to effective narrative use. The title suggests a particularly gory mountain-climbing movie, but that's another story.

      It begins in Buffalo, N.Y., re-created here with lovely digital effects and good old-fashioned art direction featuring lots and lots of bowler hats and bustles. Aspiring short story writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), named cheekily after the Hammer horror stalwart Peter Cushing, can see dead people, her late mother especially, who's given to sudden vapory appearances and cryptic warnings regarding a crimson peak of some sort.

      Edith has one respectable suitor, a nice doctor (Charlie Hunnam, who gave up the "Fifty Shades" franchise for this?) who smells a rat when his romantic rival hits town. The interloper, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, simultaneously hammy and restrained -- how do the Brits manage that so easily?), seeks backers for his clay-mining operation back home in England. The clay in question is crimson, and the plainly haunted family estate, Allerdale Hall, creaks and groans atop a hill, which is very nearly a ... peak. Aha!

      Sharpe's sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, having as little fun as is actorly possible) harbors a not-so-secret secret, and looks like she'll be killing any minute in every scene. The complicated motivations behind what del Toro intends as a perverse love story serve to clutter, rather than energize, the present-tense action.

      Once the action moves to England, and Edith consents to marry her dashing untrustworthy Thomas, the heroine becomes a standard-issue damsel in various sorts of distress. Not even the film's occasional bursts of ultra-violence, or the endlessly oozing red clay, or Hiddleston crying a red tear, or Chastain swanning around in one flaming crimson ball gown after another, can infuse this gorgeous bore with anything like red-blooded suspense.

      MPAA rating: R (for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language).

      Running time: 1:59

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