Gifted Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) makes an odd misstep with this overwrought gothic horror thriller, which is so bloated that it's more silly than scary. At least it features a starry cast that has a lot of fun with the characters, providing some emotional undercurrents as things get increasingly crazed. But the truth about this film is that it's a haunted house movie with ghosts that aren't remotely frightening. And worse yet, they're essentially irrelevant to the story.
It's set in late-1800s Buffalo, as young aspiring writer Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is unsure about the romantic advances of her childhood friend Alan (Charlie Hunnam), who is now a hunky doctor. But he fades into the background when the dashing Sir Thomas (Tom Hiddlestone) arrives from England seeking funding from Edith's father (Jim Beaver) for a machine to mine valuable clay from his crumbling ancestral home. As he sweeps Edith off her feet, Thomas' sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) enters the picture with a clearly nefarious plan of her own. Sure enough, Thomas whisks Edith off to get married and return to the family mansion, a freaky towering wreck that oozes red clay. Or that might be blood. And since Edith has a history of seeing ghosts, the house feels particularly crowded to her.
The spirits are rendered as stretched-out skeletons surrounded by spidery wisps. And in England they're of course blood-red. Oddly, they merely seem to be observers to this story, never actually doing much proper menacing. And since they look faintly ridiculous it isn't easy to muster up the dread required to make this work as a horror movie. Everything else on-screen is just as absurd. The mansion looks more like an elaborately dilapidated over-sized movie set than a neglected manor house. Thankfully, Del Toro packs every scene with witty details and a lurid colour scheme that keeps the audience on its toes.
Continue reading: Crimson Peak Review
In the 19th Century in Cumbria, England, an old house stood overlooking a tremendous stretch of land. That house was Crimson Peak, inhabited by Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). When author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) marries the handsome and quite Thomas Sharpe, she moves to Crimson Peak to live with the siblings. However, upon arrival, strange thing begin to occur. Mysterious visions and terrifying objects begin to emerge, showing that the house is not as it appears. As Cushing struggles to get to the bottom of the house's dark history, the secrets of the family steadily begin to unveil themselves to her.
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Effective drama can happen in a grocery store. Many priceless movie moments have taken place in unexpected locations. But Never Back Down doesn't bring earnestness and truth to this scene; it just feels awkward and clueless. There's also a scene where Jake breaks out his newly learned karate moves when a car behind him honks at a stop sign. And the music video-esque scene in which Jake's mother charges through the house and dramatically, um, does the laundry.
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Romero hasn't been able to get a feature film off the ground since 1993's The Dark Half, which is really too bad. He's one of the more distinctive filmmakers working within the horror genre, having made his start with the black-and-white classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That was a pioneer for modern horror as gruesome satire, followed up by the arguably superior Dawn of the Dead (where the zombie invasion was set against the backdrop of a shopping mall). Fans of Romero will be pleased to see him back to his old preoccupations. Bruiser could be viewed as an extension of the identity crisis in Martin, Romero's ambivalent portrait of a young man who may or may not be a vampire.
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Bogosian is Barry Champlain, a brilliant loudmouth gab machine hosting a popular nightly talk show filled with his strong opinions and whack-job listeners. One fears her garbage disposal. One begs to visit Barry at the studio. And one (many?) offer the Jewish host death threats in the name of Nazism.
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