Film reviews: Crimson Peak (15) | The Lobster (15)

THE Scotsman film critic Alistair Harkness reviews two of this week’s new cinema releases - Crimson Peak and The Lobster
Jessica Chastain, left, and Tom Hiddleston. Picture: APJessica Chastain, left, and Tom Hiddleston. Picture: AP
Jessica Chastain, left, and Tom Hiddleston. Picture: AP

Crimson Peak (15)

Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam

Star rating: **

After the robot-smashing tedium of Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the realm of ghosts and gore should have been a cause for celebration, but this 19th-century gothic melodrama is riper than a week-old corpse.

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Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith, an aspiring writer of spooky tales whose literary ambitions have been inspired by her love of Mary Shelley and her own childhood encounter with the ghost of her dead mother.

After setting her up as a proto-feminist writer, however, Crimson Peak loses interest in this character trait as she falls for an English baronet called Thomas Sharpe. Though he seems dashing and dreamy – hardly surprising given that he’s played by Tom Hiddleston – he also has a lot of dark secrets, most of them connected to his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), with whom he has just arrived in America to secure funding from Edith’s wealthy father. Thomas wants to fund the construction of an elaborate drilling contraption that will allow him to extract clay from his dilapidated family estate back home in Cumberland.

If this hardly sounds like the stuff of riveting cinema, that’s because it’s not. Early in the film, Edith states that she writes stories with ghosts in them, not ghost stories.

“Ghosts are a metaphor for the past,” she says. Unfortunately, the film fails to make this approach in any way meaningful.

Even when a chain of events eventually leads Audrey to return to England with Thomas and Lucille, Del Toro can’t make the supernatural aspects of the story connect to anything worthy of our investment in the characters.

Flashes of grim violence together with gruesomely detailed CGI ghosts – hatchets in heads, flayed skin trailing off into the ether – serve little purpose beyond interrupting the boredom the story inspires. The performances, meanwhile, border on high camp, perhaps knowingly, perhaps not (the tone is too inconsistent to tell).

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Crimson Peak is certainly a long way from the creepy, haunting, heartbreaking perfection of Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. More’s the pity.

The Lobster (15)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C Reilly, Ashley Jensen, Olivia Colman

Star rating: ****

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Anyone who caught Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s break-out feature Dog Days will know he has an oddball view of the world that manages to be esoteric enough to seem completely original while also providing an interrogation of the human condition that’s weirdly relatable.

Happily with his English language debut, The Lobster, this sensibility loses nothing in translation. It’s an achingly poignant fable about love dressed up in the guise of a high-concept story of transmutation, starring Colin Farrell (doing some of his best work) as David, a sad-sack architect whose newly single status has condemned him to a 40-day period of incarceration in which he must find a new partner or be turned into an animal of his choice.

Choosing the titular crustacean for its lengthy lifespan and unwavering fertility, he makes an effort at first to fake his way through a relationship, but the horrifying results of his union convince him to live instead as an outlaw among a band of singletons who have sworn off love.

To say any more risks ruining the numerous surprises Lanthimos has in store, but beneath the surface weirdness, the film has much to say about the difficulties of finding love when other agendas are at play and yet still manages to make a convincing – and darkly funny –case for true love being blind when it happens.