If you are coming to this for a splatter or intense horror film, you’re going to be disappointed. This is more Turn of the Screw than Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What it is at its roots, is an unapologetic Gothic romance with ghosts. And the main character, played by Mia Wasikowska (The Double) tells us so… you just have to believe her. She plays a Jane Austin-like character, as Austin was in her day, not so much as folks view her from modern times. She is independent, dismissive of social mores, intelligent, and generally a modern woman.
Playing opposite her, Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive) and Jessica Chastain (The Martian), with some support from Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Jim Beaver, and Burn Gorman (Trumbo) drive the story. And the story is exactly what you anticipate it to be, with few surprises. That is either good for you, or it isn’t. The film is a near perfect distillation the style it embraces, making it a wonderful example of this kind of tale. On the other hand, if you are demanding surprises, you’ll be left wanting. From the moment the story starts, you know what has happened and what will happen. And it all unfolds in beautiful technicolor (as the saying used to be).
I have to admit, despite the stellar cast, it really was director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro (Extraordinary Tales) that drew me to view this bit of confection. The fact that he had re-paired with his oft-time collaborator Robbins (batteries not included) as they had on Mimic to write this script was also a plus. But it is del Toro that brings it all to life. He has a wonderful, visual sensibility and enjoys telling stories. They may not always be the best stories, but I’ve always found them visually rich enough to be entertaining. Even his weakest films have their production points.
And, to be fair, this is not his strongest film. It is sumptuous. It is definitely passionate and has more than a few tense and scary moments. But it is not surprising nor, ultimately, entirely satisfying for modern audiences. As a del Toro fan, you would have to see this, but as a horror fan, you might want to take a pass. On the other hand, if you like Regency and Gothic tales, you might be surprised at how much you like this offering. I don’t think it ever really found its true audience… perhaps it is time for that to happen now that it is on disc.