Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA/Canada, 2015. Double Dare You, Legendary Entertainment. Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins. Cinematography by Dan Laustsen. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull. Music by Fernando Velazquez. Production Design by Thomas E. Sanders. Costume Design by Kate Hawley. Film Editing by Bernat Vilaplana. Washington Film Critics Awards 2015.
Guillermo del Toro celebrates many of his passions with this gorgeous chiller, the elements including but not limited to a love of Victorian era-set Hammer Horror films, gothic novels (Walpole, Radcliffe, etc), creature features (bugs and moths!), gory violence (why always in the face, Mr. del Toro?) and even touches of Daphne Du Maurier for a ghost story that is rarely scary, often too graphic but always engrossing and fun. Mia Wasikowska is an aspiring author in late nineteenth century Buffalo who marries a handsome but impoverished baronet (Tom Hiddleston) after her father’s mysterious death, and goes to live with him in Cumberland, England. Her days in this crumbling manse are spent watching her husband desperately try to earn an income by mining the rich abundance of clay that not so subtly turns their fields blood red on a regular basis, the rest of the time trying to make nice with Hiddleston’s darkly brooding spinster sister (Jessica Chastain as a Mrs. Danvers figure). It’s one thing to live in a house that’s so drafty that the snow falls directly through the front hall ceiling, but when ghosts start showing up, secrets are revealed and, worst of all, the tea turns treacherous, Wasikowska decides to get the bottom of what makes her two only family members so strange. Sumptuous and spirited, the film needs to get a few of its narrative strands in line (the fact that Wasikowska’s character is an aspiring author is haphazardly included and never pays off) but is rigorously directed with a fine eye to physical detail and character depth. Not everyone will be frightened by it, but the story grabs one’s attention from the beginning and rarely flags before the silly conclusion, and the production design is just stunning.