Sunday, October 18, 2015

Double-Barrel Movie Review: Crimson Peak & Goosebumps

 Ah...is there a better time of year than the Halloween season? Horror movies abound, I'm in my glory, and my wife is miserable....
 First on the hit parade was Guillermo Del Toro's CRIMSON PEAK...My wife is crazy about Del Toro's films. Even when she initially claims to not like them, as with HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY and PACIFIC RIM, I often catch her re-watching them on cable. She describes him a "A masterful storyteller who makes beautiful, touching films." (Just to let you know what high praise this is, Del Toro is probably one of two filmmakers that my wife could actually name, the other being Steven Spielberg.) She was not looking forward to CRIMSON PEAK, until Del Toro and Legendary did a complete about-face these past few weeks and stopped touting the film as a horror movie, instead going all-out to make sure people knew it was really a "Gothic Romance". I called bullshit...saying something is horror is perceived in Hollywood as the kiss of death to any form of legitimacy. (I nearly had a stroke a few years back when some Oscar bigwig claimed that a horror film had never won Best Picture. What the fuck was THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?????) I told my horror-hating wife to rejoice, because Del Toro had indeed made an atmospheric chick flick, knowing inside that we were about to experience a real, adult, haunted house HORROR MOVIE.

 But no, he really did make a gothic romance. Boy, did I feel stupid.

 First off, I decided to save about fifteen bucks, and skip the IMAX showing, and go for a cheap matinee at the regular theater. Thank God that I did...I would have kicked myself if I had spent $25.00 to see this film. (Since I made my wife's love for Del Toro clear already, I will come clean about my feelings for the man's films: I think he makes visually amazing films, but he's always been really hit-or-miss for me...I've never really loved any of his films, aside from BLADE II. MIMIC was great fun, CRONOS was a really good debut, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE was, sorry, really boring. The HELLBOY films were pretty good, but they were not in any way, shape, or form the HELLBOY from the comics. PACIFIC RIM was ok when I first saw it, but it has grown on me through umpteen viewings with my monster-crazy son. PAN'S LABYRINTH is probably my favorite Del Toro film to date.) One of the most cinematically nerve-wracking moments of my film-watching career was when Del Toro was announced as the director of THE HOBBIT. I loved the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and I was worried that Del Toro would ruin the franchise with an uneven film. (Payback was delivered in the form of me getting exactly what I wanted when Del Toro left and Peter Jackson stepped in to direct, and crafted not one uneven movie but three bloated mediocrities. That'll teach me!) So...I was eager to see Del Toro take on a real, nasty R-rated HORROR film.

 This ain't it.

 The film finds young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) being swept off of her feet by down-on-his-heels Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). They marry, and Thomas takes Edith back to England to live in the ancestral home, with his weird sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) there to play third wheel. From here on, there will be SPOILERS!!!!!!

 The supernatural hook of the film is that there are ghosts who warn Edith to "Beware of Crimson Peak!"...these ghosts appear and disappear in short order, and really have no bearing on the film. I suppose an argument could be made that they're leading Edith to clues that could save her life, but it seemed to me that she would have found these things through sheer nosiness.

 I cannot imagine anyone not seeing every twist and turn in this film coming a mile off, but that could just be because I've seen too many of the same movies that Del Toro has. My wife, for her part, claims to have not seen anything coming ahead of time. For my part, I sat there thinking "This murder is taken from DRESSED TO KILL. This scene is Del Toro stealing from his own THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. The red ball and the wheelchair are from THE CHANGELING. This murderous chase through the snow is from THE SHINING." In fact, the whole film felt like a Gothic version of THE SHINING: The isolated innocent, trapped in a haunted house with a homicidal maniac, the naked ghost in the bathtub, the suspicious friend who travels through the blizzard to save the hero, and pays a bloody price for it. The whole story seemed weak and sloppy to me, and it makes me hope that Del Toro will let someone else write his next film, and he'll stick to directing. (If he gets to make any more films...CRIMSON PEAK  is flopping hard, and I can't imagine he can take another costly flop, no matter how beautiful a flop it may be.)

 I honestly can't imagine how anyone could watch this film and not know that Thomas and Lucille are murderous nuts, not know that they're involved in an incestuous relationship, not see the end coming a mile off. I spent the entire film bored out of my mind, but I kept imagining that there must surely be some kind of original twist coming, something that would take me off-guard, but....nope. It's strictly by the book. The whole film left me scratching my head....who ponied up the money for this self-indulgent snooze-fest? Who is this possibly meant to entertain? (My wife.) Why did Del Toro feel the need to open the film with a shot that takes place at the end, basically showing a bloody Edith out in a snowstorm, pretty much taking away any suspense that the film may have been able to build up?

 I was also left with one nagging question that I just cannot figure out, and if anyone out there has an answer, please feel free to enlighten me in the comments. Thomas is obsessed with this machine that he invented to help dig the red clay out of the earth. When he's trying raise money from investors to fund the machine, he claims that the mines at Allerdale Hall are all played out and he needs the machine to get to the hard-to-reach remainders of the vein. BUT....when they arrive at Allerdale Hall, this hard-to-find clay is EVERYWHERE....bubbling out of the ground, coming up out of wells in the basement, coming out of water pipes, OOZING OUT OF THE WALLS OF THE HOUSE ITSELF!!! Jesus, stop fucking around with that machine, and scoop the shit off of your goddamned walls by hand and sell it! Also, as someone who has suffered a broken ankle three times, Edith sure got around, and fought (!!!!) for her life amazingly well. (The whole "broken leg", which looked more like a shattered spine when it happened, was totally unnecessary.

 The film is beautiful-looking, and Hiddleston and Chastain deliver great performances, but that was the extent of what was good about this film. Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam seem to be asleep, the plot is crushingly dull, and the computer-generated ghosts looked terribly phony. It makes me sad to say it, but I found virtually nothing to enjoy about this film. Also, for a film that was going for a creepy vibe, the odd, often jaunty score seemed like it would be more at home in a period romantic comedy. I didn't fit at all. My wife described this film as "romantic"...Where, exactly, is the romance in a guy who fucks his sister trying to marry and kill a young woman in order to get her money...? Woman are strange.

 On a totally unrelated note, the theater was pretty empty, yet two groups of people felt the need to sit right on top of us: A weird, dapper nerd and a girl (There was no way this girl was actually dating this strange nerd....) on my wife's  side, and three girls who appeared to be about fourteen years old on my side. The nerd spent the entire time they showed trailers loudly explaining the pathos of Lady Gaga's character on AMERICAN HORROR STORY while the girl disinterestedly looked at her phone, lighting up the entire theater. This was already getting me angry, and then the younger girls came in, yelling and screaming and making fun of every trailer at the top of their lungs while they dared each other to yell and throw things and generally be a bunch of little cunts. I think my wife figured I was going to kill someone, so as soon as the film started, she pointed at the girls and said, in a stern voice that also ended up scaring the nerd on her side of the theater, "LADIES! THIS IS NEITHER THE TIME NOR THE PLACE! YOU'RE BEING VERY DISRESPECTFUL TO THE OTHER PEOPLE IN HERE WHO PAID TO SEE THIS MOVIE. GET YOURSELVES UNDER CONTROL, OR TAKE YOURSELVES OUT, PLEASE." This was immediately followed by the other older filmgoers clapping and yelling out "THANK YOU!"...the girls, and the nerd, kept quiet after that, thankfully. And my wife wonders why I hate to leave the house.

 Next up, we took our six-year-old son to see GOOSEBUMPS. I'm drained by writing so much about CRIMSON PEAK, so this will be nowhere near as long.

 GOOSEBUMPS is a slight little film, the kind that you start to forget as soon as you leave the theater, but it was fun while it lasted. The film takes a meat approach to the GOOSEBUMPS franchise, casting Jack Black as author R.L. Stine, who finds himself allied with his daughter and a couple of high school boys as they attempt to save their town from Stine's various literary creations, which have come to life. I had a good time experiencing this onslaught of giant bugs, blobs, werewolves, aliens, robots, zombies, evil pumpkin monsters, abominable snowmen, evil clowns, and satanic ventriloquist dummies through the eyes of my son, who had a great time. One of the few childhood memories that I have of my absentee father are of seeing genre movies with him, which undoubtedly helped shape my taste in film. My son and I often watch age-appropriate monster movies together, but this was his first monster movie in a theater, unless you count JURASSIC WORLD, and he aced it. As an adult, I enjoyed the monster effects, and I laughed out loud a few times. It was a fun way to pass a few hours, and it was a nice Halloween outing for my little guy.

 If you had told me a few months ago that GOOSEBUMPS  would totally clean the clock of CRIMSON PEAK, both at the box office and in my heart, I would have called you crazy. Go figure.