Crimson Peak


Exploring Allerdale Hall can be hazardous to one's health.

Exploring Allerdale Hall can be hazardous to one’s health.

(2015) Gothic Horror (Universal) Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde, Bruce Gray, Emily Coutts, Alec Stockwell, Brigitte Robinson, Gillian Ferrier, Tamara Hope, Kimberly-Sue Murray, Sofia Wells, Peter Spence, Bill Lake, Jim Watson, Joanna Douglas. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

6 Days of Darkness 2015

Some see ghosts as echoes of memories; people who left behind some of themselves when they die. Others see it as a transitory period between this life and the next. Regardless of how you see ghosts, they can be terrifying.

Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) – likely named for the veteran Hammer horror star Peter Cushing – knows all about ghosts. As a child, the specter of her recently deceased mother came to her to warn her “Beware of the crimson peak.” Clearly a message from your dead mother is one that will stay with you for your entire life.

She lives in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century with her industrialist father (Beaver). She has aspirations to be a writer, sort of a distaff Edgar Allan Poe and she has no time for men, although ophthalmologist Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) would love to catch her eye.

However, her eye is caught by Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), a down-on-his-luck baronet who has come to Buffalo with his sister Lucille (Chastain) to convince her father to fund the construction of his experimental mining machine which he is using to mine a rare ore that exists on his estate. Her father is suspicious and hires a detective (Gorman) to check out the siblings.

However, despite her father’s misgivings, Edith falls deeply in love with the handsome young noble and eventually marries him, leaving Buffalo for his crumbling estate in Cumberland and by crumbling we mean it; the roof has a gigantic hole, letting the weather in. Red clay seeps up through the floorboards and walls, looking uncannily like blood. Electricity works intermittently so candle power and fireplaces provide heat and light. Edith is warned not to go below the main level as it is dangerous. And to make matters worse, she almost immediately begins seeing ghosts, angry ones which reflect her relationship with Lucille which is cold at best and hostile at worst.

The ghosts that Edith is seeing aren’t even the worst thing; she begins to suspect that her new husband and sister-in-law are not whom they seem to be. Her investigations further exacerbate her doubts and she soon realizes that if she can’t unravel the secrets of Allerdale Hall, she might just become a ghost herself and I can’t think of any hell worse than spending eternity in Allerdale Hall.

Del Toro has been one of the fan favorites of horror since beginning his career with movies like Cronos, Mimic, The Devil’s Backbone and of course the Hellboy movies. This is something of a passion project for him, one that has been in gestation for years. It is a grand vista that he has painted with, one not unlike that which he created in Pan’s Labyrinth. Allerdale Hall is a magnificent set, as Gothic a look as ever brought to the silver screen. It is a place made for ghosts and ghost stories.

Del Toro has assembled a stellar cast but curiously, two of the main performances leave something to be desired. Wasikowska who can be compelling underplays her role to the point of somnolence while Chastain, one of the best young actresses in Hollywood is shrill and overplays her role in an eyebrow-arching silent film villainess portrayal that seems archaic to my 21st century sensibilities.

The story is straight out of the annals of Shelley and Poe – A.O. Scott of the New York Times correctly described it as “Henry James …filtered through the lurid sensibilities of Mario Bava –  overset with a deep melancholy that pervades every nook and cranny of Allerdale Hall, stained red with the clay that is everywhere, even coloring the snow crimson. Ghosts creep and crawl, their eyes black and empty as the night, their mouths open in tortured expressions of sorrow. A florid description yes, but the movie lends itself to such language.

Some have complained that this isn’t strictly speaking a horror film and I can see their point although I disagree with it. There are plenty of images that will haunt your nightmares but there are certainly elements of Hitchcockian suspense, particularly in the tale of the Sharpe siblings who could easily have been characters in a black and white opus of the Master in the 1930s. While this is set in an earlier period, there is definitely a tension throughout that Hitchcock would have appreciated.

Not everyone likes this movie; some have felt misled by the marketing which emphasizes the horror aspects (in fact the movie was completed in January but held back because Universal wanted it to be their tentpole Halloween release). This is definitely not like modern horror movies which emphasize murder and mayhem and depends largely on atmosphere; those who don’t appreciate old school horror had best give this one a miss. However, if you’re like me and love those brooding old haunted mansions full of things that go bump in the night, this is right up your alley.

REASONS TO GO: Gothic atmosphere. Some genuinely creepy disturbing images. Great set design.
REASONS TO STAY: Wasikowska a bit bland. Chastain a bit over-the-top.
FAMILY VALUES: Bloody violence, gruesome images, scenes of terror, some sexual content and a little bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Kingston, Ontario doubled for Buffalo in the film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rose Red
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness concludes!

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An Unreasonable Man


 

An Unreasonable Man

Ralph Nader: An American original.

(2006) Documentary (IFC) Ralph Nader, Howard Zinn, Pat Buchanan, Phil Donohue, Joan Claybrook, David Bollier, Mark Green, Andrew Egendorf, Laura Nader, Claire Nader, Richard Grossman, Lawrence O’Donnell, William Greider, James Ridgeway, Gene Karpinski. Directed by Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan

 

Ralph Nader may go down in history as one of the most polarizing figures of the 20th century (and of the 21st as well). In the early stages of his career, he was a tireless advocate for consumers. He took on corporate entities and governmental agencies alike on such crusades as automobile safety, clean air and water, and airline safety. The corporate right hate him like poison and had he stuck to advocacy as he did in the 70s and 80s, he might well be remembered as the greatest consumer advocate of all time.

However, unsatisfied with affecting change from without and feeling betrayed by the Carter administration, he made the decision to attempt to make change from within. Feeling the two major political parties were virtually indistinguishable from one another, he took a different road, finally settling on the Green Party (a political party which got its start in Europe where it remains far more popular than it is here) as his platform of choice. So in 2000, he ran as an independent candidate against Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

The rest, as they say, was history. Gore lost by a narrow margin and we wound up with a president who gave us the Iraq War and the economic meltdown of 2008. There are many pundits of the left who believe that the story would have been entirely different if the votes that Nader received had gone to Gore instead.

Which quite frankly is sour grapes. Gore lost the election at least as much for his failure to effectively establish himself as legitimate presidential material; I remember all the late night talk show jokes likening the former Vice-President as wooden, stiff and humorless. People had trouble relating to him and his campaign failed to motivate younger voters to come out and vote as Obama did in 2008. I myself didn’t vote for Gore, mainly because of his wife Tipper’s involvement with the Parental Music Resource Committee which seemed hell-bent on the censorship of rock and roll and be damned with the constitution. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that distrust.

This documentary covers his career, essentially dividing it up into his advocacy years and his political years. The look is unflinching; while his achievements are praised, Nader himself is portrayed as an inflexible sort who is self-assured that he is right, no matter what. He finds compromise to be an anathema and prefers shaping the world to his point of view – which is where the title of the film comes from, a quote from George Bernard Shaw which reads “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Nader certainly defines this.

Over and over again we see instances where Nader sees things in terms of black and white. There are no shades of grey in his world view. People are either with him or against him; he obviously takes very personally the defection of some of the young advocates who were part of the group he assembled that were affectionately known as “Nader’s Raiders” to government service, which at the time he felt was an ineffective means of forcing change. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that he eventually concluded to take this course himself.

Nader is by all accounts a brilliant man, albeit occasionally infuriating. He has a legacy of legislation that any lawmaker could envy. He also is, perhaps unfairly, blamed for the ascension of Dubya to the White House. That the latter is what may wind up being his more enduring legacy may be one of the most myopic turns by the left ever. The documentary does address that, but at a shade over two hours in length may have people hitting the fast forward button or ejecting the disc more than they will be riveted by the content of the film.

WHY RENT THIS: Remarkably even-handed and fair look at an American icon who often raises very extreme reactions in both followers and critics. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags in places and might have been too long.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Co-director Henriette Mantel was a former protégé of Nader’s.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a number of bonus featurettes that have to do more with the discussion of the political issues that have accompanied Nader’s career, from how third parties have affected American politics to why the right is better organized than the left. For an indie documentary this is an unusually sumptuous presentation.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $176,647 on an unreported production budget; this may have broken even or even made a little bit of cash.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Watch