horror-less horror

CRIMSON PEAK

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

2015 – Heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept away to an obviously sinister mansion by the equally obviously sinister Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Everything you expect to happen, happens. 

“But basically what it is is a really, really, almost classical Gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it’s a proper R rating. And it’s adult.” For those keeping score, that’s four “really”s, four “very”s, and two “disturbing”s dropped by director Guillermo Del Toro, who is trying really, really hard to make us think this movie is very, very good.

It’s not.

Allow me to get a little English major on you by telling you about an author named Anne Radcliffe. She blazed the trail for the Gothic novel, which were stories about innocent heroines trapped in big, scary houses filled with creepy people and, possibly, ghosts. Her books sold incredibly well… in 1794. Nowadays, they’re derided for their reliance on stale, predictable tropes (despite the fact that she invented most of them).

Crimson Peak plays like a straight Anne Radcliffe novel. It has absolutely no awareness that every one of its “twists” and “turns” is a cliche that has been telegraphed to the audience well in advance. If you’ve read any fiction or watched any movie in the past 75 years or so, there are no surprises waiting for you.

For instance: in the opening scenes, a young Edith is visited by her mother’s ghost, who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Later on, after she’s moved into the world’s most preposterously awful house, Sir Thomas casually mentions that all the red clay in the soil led to the place’s nickname: Crimson Peak. There’s an ominous rumble of music. Our heroine is shocked. The savvy viewer is left wondering whether the filmmakers actually thought this was a surprise.

The movie is littered with non-shockers like this. The “stray” dog that shows up. The tea that the Sharpes insist Edith drink. The way Lucille is so concerned with whether Thomas and Edith have slept together yet. All the luggage in the off-limits basement. Duuuuhhh gee, what could dese tings mean?

Del Toro seems to have lavished so much attention on the baroque atmosphere and extravagant costumes that he forgot what the hell was happening in his own movie. One character is killed by having his head repeatedly bashed into a sink; the other characters conclude that he “slipped.” It’s repeatedly mentioned that the house itself is slowly sinking into the red clay; this fact never comes into play.

Crimson Peak is a scary ghost story with no scary ghosts; it’s a psychological thriller with no psychology or thrills. Spend your two hours on a couple Twilight Zone episodes instead.

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ABANDONED MINE

Abandoned Mine Poster

2013: Four friends and one stereotypical Indian spend Halloween night inside the spooky Jarvis Mine. It’s supposedly haunted (it isn’t haunted [OR IS IT??? {No, it’s not (Well, maybe)}]).

I’m going to spoil this one, but trust me, you’re never going to want to see it. Imagine an episode of Dawson’s Creek and an episode of Scooby-Doo mating; this movie would be their deformed, tedious offspring. It can’t decide whether it wants to be an angsty teen drama or a creepy ghost adventure, so, like a blindfolded kid attacking a pinata, it takes halfhearted swipes at both and ends up hitting itself in the nuts.

The viewing experience was like taking a 95-minute dump without a book or cell phone to entertain myself; it was that appallingly dull. No opportunity to drag things out is squandered, like the montage of the girls trying on Halloween costumes accompanied by a song repeating “I’m going craaaaazy o-ver you” again and again. Or the scene where one of the girls gets up to pee and we watch her do so in real-time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie portray the full experience of urinating. Now I have (the movie is Abandoned Mine).

The premise, with annoying jock Brad (Reiley McClendon) setting up a spend-the-night-at-the-haunted-mine adventure for his friends, is promising. The characters themselves are not. The gang consists of Brad’s current girlfriend Sharon (Alexa Vega), football henchman Jimmy (Adam Hendershott), ex-girlfriend Laurie (Sage Thompson), and Laurie’s friend Ethan (Charan Prabhakar). Note that Ms. Vega appeared in 1996’s The Glimmer Man as Steven Seagal’s daughter, immediately making her the most accomplished member of the cast.

Did I mention Ethan is Indian? I feel I should, because that is his character. Being Indian, he is of course extremely smart and emotionless. Much “fun” is had with how his real name is hard to pronounce. He tells everyone that he worked in a call center in Calcutta, but later admits he never did (huh?). He also knows a lot about mines – because he’s smart, remember? Random mine trivia about how sound travels and how air flows and how the tunnels are constructed. At one point he determines how far below the surface they are. “How did you know that?” one of them asks. “Calculation,” he replies. OF COURSE!

Eventually everyone wanders into the mine, falls down a shaft, and panics. They are beset by bone-chilling horrors like MUSIC PLAYING! DRAFTS! OLD BOXES! And NARROW TUNNELS! They wander about, encounter some spoooooky bats, and at the 56 minute mark it becomes painfully obvious what the “twist” is going to be. Surprise, everybody! There are no ghosts, and Brad is masterminding an elaborate (if illogical) practical joke on everyone. The movie unveils this unsurprising development in a series of “reveal” shots like it’s The Sixth Sense or something

After over an hour of listless attempts at horror – a character puts on an old miner’s hat OH NO nothing happens – the movie throws us another curve: Brad’s prank has worked all too well, with Laurie and Ethan running terrified into the bowels of the mine. Convinced that the ghosts are going to get her, Laurie goes nuts, puts on a feathered headdress, bites the head off a rat (no kidding), and beats Brad to death with a metal pole when he comes looking for her. Brad also sees the oft-referenced ghosts of the miner and his daughters before he dies. What? It doesn’t matter.

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

Everyone else lives. There’s a sad little wrap-up about Brad basically being a loser who would have been trapped forever in their piss-ant mountain town, and then we cut to Laurie editing together the footage from the tragic night. She looks out the window and sees the ghosts from the mine. What? Nobody cares.

Now, I ask you… why make a movie like this? Why start with a premise like “haunted mine” and try to pull off a coming-of-age drama instead? Why include two brief shots of (maybe) actual ghosts at the very end? Were the ghosts there the whole time or merely the product of the characters’ over-stressed minds? Was Brad really just a prankster or did he have darker motivations? Did any of the friends notice or care that Laurie killed him? Did the police? His parents? Anyone?

You'll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

You’ll wait 88 minutes for this. Worth it? No.

More like A-BAD-oned Mine, am I right?