“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” Review: Some ghoulish fun with enticing ideas

From its opening moments, “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” takes the nightmarish bluntness of its title – also the name of the yestercentury horror anthology series that inspired it – to heart, painting with broody aesthetics a late-1960s suburbia ripe for treachery, murder and spooky goings-on. Much in the vein of Guillermo del Toro, that master of the macabre and dark fantasy here lending his post-Oscar victory hand as producer, it’s a touch of the supernatural that brings the terror lurking underneath beds and in the twistedly imaginative minds of young children to the fore.

I didn’t have the experience of staying up all night fervid and sweaty after reading the novelettes the movie is based on, but judging from the legacy of a series that managed to puncture pop culture in a slightly darker vein than “Goosebumps,” this André Øvredal-directed adaptation is a more or less faithful recreation of its more intimate brushes with terror, of the isolation in anticipating some neglected evil incarnate that has its sights set on you and only you (the familiar concept of “It Follows” may owe something to Alvin Schwartz’s imagination). Early on in “Scary Stories,” however, these frights – appropriate as a supposed gateway horror for younger audiences, but it’s not like many of them won’t also be absorbing the upcoming, much more sinister “IT” sequel – barely function beyond the borders that contain them in specific scenes. Continue reading →

Are the Oscars about to take a step back?

There’s more than one reason why we continue to remember the final Oscar awarded on the evening of February 26, 2017 – or, more specifically, the act of its awarding – as a shocking turn of events for the Academy Awards, awards shows in general and those involved, not to mention the millions watching at home.

If dictionaries included video examples of its entries, we would see this under “fiasco”: Those few moments, witnessed then and recalled now as feeling like much longer, when golden statuette-clutching “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz announced that the actual Best Picture winners were in fact those behind “Moonlight.” And legitimately so; it remains an absurd occurrence, an oft-forgotten example of the mayhem that can unfold on live television.

When the golden Oscar dust had settled, however, when all the actors (pun partially intended) involved had said their piece on what happened and media outlets broke down the sequence of events like an episode of “CSI,” a more historically impactful (and decidedly less clickbaity) reason for that event’s enduring legacy began to emerge. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Shape of Water,’ beauty saves the beast. No verbiage necessary.

For 20 years, Guillermo Del Toro has found success in the bizarre and carved himself a niche in the eclectic. He’s done more than anyone (not named Peter Jackson) to create a spot for fantasy in contemporary cinema, with 2006’s piercingly original “Pan’s Labyrinth” serving as the crown jewel of his catalog.

The imaginative Mexican director’s latest effort, though, makes a strong claim for the crown. A more character-driven story than anything he’s undertaken before, “The Shape of Water” is simultaneously a departure from Del Toro’s unfettered imagination and a showcase of the filmmaker at the height of his technical powers.

The fantastical has always been Del Toro’s forte, but “Shape of Water” operates as proof that he can tell a spellbinding story while leaving nightmarish creatures on the bench, while also trading mysticism for a previously untapped amount of realism. Continue reading →

Guillermo’s latest effort is a visual treat from a previously forgotten genre

Crimson Peak’s director, the unique and visionary Guillermo del Toro, has said that he wasn’t out to make a horror film with his latest effort, but rather a gothic romance.

That he has done, to the effect of a visceral product that, while somewhat run-of-the-mill, stands apart from other fright flicks being released this with a tense ambience, stern attention to detail, and del Toro’s trademark undertone of morbidity.

In Crimson Peak, we meet Edith, a young writer with a desire to be published who – yes – has had encounters with ghosts. She comes across the ostensibly charming Thomas Sharpe as he arrives in America seeking funding from Edith’s father invention proposal, capturing Edith’s heart in the process and beginning the chain of events sending her to the titular mansion.

And that’s where the fun begins.

The house is unquestionably the star of the show, itself a nuanced but deadly character in its debilitating state. While not as emotionally complex as some of del Toro’s previous offerings (i.e. Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage), Crimson Peak may be his greatest visual effort, as del Toro’s keen eye for detail of the macabre variety is constantly apparent in the many rooms – secret or otherwise – of the mansion. Set production and cinematography are the film’s greatest strengths, the latter providing some of the most absorbing scenes you’ll see in any movie this year.

That’s not to take away from the film’s spookiest element however – the ghosts are definitely from del Toro’s fantastical mind, apparitions of torment that the audience won’t be able to take their eyes off of, no matter how much they might want to.

All the elements of Crimson Peak’s visual aesthetic factor into del Toro’s vision of a modern gothic horror, something rarely seen, or even attempted, in modern film.

When you just really, really want Hot Pockets.

When you just really, really want Hot Pockets.

Its story is also in tune with the old-fashioned genre, which is to say it’s relatively standard, reminiscent of a demented version of Wuthering Heights. You might know where the story is going next, but that shouldn’t diminish the strong acting that Crimson Peak has to offer.

Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, I Saw The Light) is downright mystifying as Thomas Sharpe – charming, conniving, tender, and suspicious all at once, resulting in Sharp being by far the most unpredictable and, to put it plainly, interesting characters. Jessica Chastain (The Martian, A Most Violent Year, Zero Dark Thirty) plays Lucille Sharpe, a clichéd figure but one portrayed so well by Chastain that it doesn’t matter. Even in a role seemingly out of her element, it’s as if del Toro wrote the script with her in mind. She continues to establish herself as a consistently powerful force in Hollywood.

Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) is comparably average as Edith, but then again, the story feels so familiar that we know her motivations and feelings by heart.

The titular mansion, level: The Haunted Mansion.

The titular mansion, level: The Haunted Mansion.

Crimson Peak breezes through its running time of over two hours, but in a way it’s welcoming. Del Toro takes careful consideration of the kind of film he’s producing and makes sure it isn’t too jarring for the modern audience, preventing what could have been a painfully slow behemoth of a film for an audience all-too used to immediate satisfaction.

That being said, when it’s time for del Toro to pull out all the stops and give the audience what it wants, he does it in droves…or buckets. He pushes the boundaries of Crimson Peak‘s R-rating in more ways than one as the story reaches its climax, a memorable and visceral roller coaster ride through deception and gore, fully living up to the film’s title.

At the very least, certainly enough to remind us that the director behind the more action oriented Pacific Rim and Hellboy films sometimes has a more mature craving to fulfill, and his hunger is visualized beautifully.


In a Nutshell

Crimson Peak is a refreshing work from a director who made a name on putting out refreshing works. Despite its standard plot, and some questionable logic by some of its characters, its visuals are a sight to behold, and the film’s atmosphere is as unnerving as it’s ghastly creatures.

7.5 / 10



Crimson Peak is rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language

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

Directed by Guillermo del Toro