I’m glad I watched it, but dear lord this was one silly movie. I overheard one person say that this was the worst film he’s ever seen, and while personally I don’t concur, if you don’t have a soft spot for the overblown gothic melodrama I can see why this movie would not agree with you.
Early on, the film’s heroine Edith, played by Mia Wasikowska, who seems to have inherited Kate Winslet’s mantle as the period movie girl, tells a prospective publisher that the story she’s written is not a ghost story but a story with a ghost in it. She is talking about the film at large here, but the problem is that it’s never clear what kind of story it’s meant to be. It has ghosts but it’s not a ghost story; it has a romance but it’s not a romantic story; it’s structured like a mystery but the mystery here is so painfully obvious, with every development telegraphed well in advance, that you have to be a moron not to put two and two together. While it has elements of horror, it is unfortunately not in the least scary; it does manage to be creepy when our heroine is exploring the atmospheric, dimly lit interiors, but the minute the actual ghosts appear in all their laughable CGI glory all I could do was snigger.
The film has two distinct halves; in the first one, Edith, who lives with her banker father in Buffalo USA, meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an impoverished English baronet who is seeking sponsorship for one of his mechanical inventions. He also travels with his icy, haughty sister (Jessica Chastain), who might as well have I AM EVIL tattooed on her forehead; you pretty much know she’s up to no good when she wears a blood-red dress to a society ball. Thomas is all dreamy and sensitive and caring so Edith is an easy prey for him. Her father takes an instinctive dislike to him, but soon enough that stops being an issue and Edith is whisked away to England and to Allerdale Hall, a vast, crumbling family mansion standing on red clay that seeps through their basement and stains the freshly fallen snow.
I still haven’t said anything complimentary about the movie yet, so here it is: the production design, the rich decaying beauty of the mansion, the extravagant costumes, the billowing night dresses are pure gothic heaven. I also loved the odd, macabre details like the image of the ants consuming a dead butterfly early on in the movie and the weird little nooks and crannies of the mansion.
While the characters are rather cliched, I did enjoy the three main performances. Wasikowska is a perfect pure-hearted gothic heroine, though it’s a tad disappointing to see Edith go from a spirited independent woman in the first half to someone who’s basically there to react to the house and its hideous mysteries. Hiddleston supposedly has a small but very rabid female following and yeah I can see why, he’s charismatic, soulful and gorgeous. Edith and Thomas’ romance is hard to really root for though since it’s clear that nothing good will come of it.
I also couldn’t see the fuss over the sex scene that was made in some of the interviews: oh no we showed some brief male nudity (not even full-frontal), goodness me how shocking! Jessica Chastain’s British accent made me wince at first, but I really warmed to her performance; it’s operatic and preposterous but fun to watch. Plus she looks great as a brunette and has a sensuality here that’s missing from the last few movies where she’s played the same kind of determined nerdy character.
So, a mixed bag; while I loved the visuals and enjoyed the acting I do wish the story had more focus and at least made an attempt to rise over the genre cliches. Also, if you’re putting humanoid ghosts in your movie, for the love of god invest in some good make-up rather than horrible fake special effects.