I’m going to try to cram in a few of these this week to make up for a slow last week. I saw a number of non-chick flick movies, and I’ll get those as we sashay toward award season. But the most important movie I saw last week, and my personal favorite, is the chick flick I’m reviewing today. Fair warning: there are spoilers. Go see it first, then come back.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring writer, has trouble selling her ghost stories to publishers. Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), visiting Buffalo, New York, to seek financial backing for his clay mines, finds both Edith and her stories captivating. The two fall in love, and they are married after Edith’s father dies suddenly. Edith goes to England to live with Thomas and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Once at their crumbling estate, Allerdale Hall, Edith begins seeing ghosts, who bring bad tidings of terrible death. Lucille exercises an immense amount of control over Thomas and the estate, and Edith has to resister her in order to save herself from a violent end. Luckily, her longtime friend, Dr. Alan Michael (Charlie Hunnam), shared Edith’s fathers suspicion of the Sharpes and continues his investigation. He arrives to help Edith, but discovers he, too, is in over his head. It’s up to Edith to face the Sharpe’s and their terrible past to save herself.
Sumptuous set and costume design, as well as an absolutely to-die-for ensemble, make this a can’t-miss film. Visually, it’s absolutely stunning, which is no surprise given that it’s a Guillermo del Toro film. The story is pretty straightforward, playing right into many gothic romance tropes. For some, the pacing might feel too slow. For me, I enjoyed the chance to look around and explore this beautiful world.
This movie would be absolutely nothing without Jessica Chastain’s performance, though. Lucille is obviously the villain from the outset, but Chastain manages to imbue her with such a desperate humanity that there are moments when you want her to be ok, because you want her to find a better life for herself. Lucille could have gone without saying anything through the whole film because the story plays across Chastain’s face in tiny expressions. She’s alive, even amidst all the death and decay, and she’s endlessly captivating. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska are dependably wonderful, and Charlie Hunnam gives what might be the strongest performance of his career. He’s not the tough guy we’ve come to know from Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim. He’s a well-intentioned weenie, and he pulls it off with aplomb. Also, everyone is beautiful, so that’s nice.
You’ll notice I just reviewed the movie without a single mention of a ghost. Because they are window dressing to a romance. This movie is more Legends of the Fall than The Others, but it has plenty of other ways to freak you out. Edith is a monster, spewing opinions and ambitions like some sort of poisonous bile. She doesn’t fawn over Thomas (who, I should remind you, is Tom Hiddleston), even though he’s way into her. And when they finally do get married and he’s reluctant to consummate the whole thing, she’s the one that gets on top to seal the deal. Her sheer curiosity and force of will makes the ghosts bend to her will, making her a ghost king like that dude that helps Aragorn at the end of Return of the King, and he was badass, so by transitive property, she must be too.
And then there’s Lucille, who is both legitimately terrifying, and probably also the scary reason this excellently-crafted film is only sitting at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes, which Meryl Streep kindly reminded us is mostly made up of dude-critics. Lucille makes no apologies for her brokenness. She embraces it like a tortured male artists, only her canvas is murder. At the end of the day, she’s a woman who wants to love and be loved, but she does not know how. She is not so different from Julia Roberts’s Anna in Notting Hill – just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. Only that boy is her brother, and instead of asking, she murders all of his wives.
And then there’s the men: Thomas is a pawn, and Dr. Alan is just so far out of his depth. They’re both enamored of Edith, but Alan never says anything, preferring to stand quietly on the sidelines until it’s too late and he’s useless. Meanwhile, Thomas woos her to her death, just sort of hoping his love will make everything ok for both her and Lucille. Neither of these are the man with a plan, and for the typical moviegoer, this is seriously uncharted waters. Like, Pacific Rim into another dimension uncharted. And it’s neither of these men that cancels the Allerdale Apocalypse – it’s Edith who must save herself in the end, in a beautiful, bloody, whimsical knife fight. You probably just peed yourself a little at that sentence. Go clean yourself up, and tune in tomorrow for voting. I’ll be back later this week with Cinderella stories and probably some Julia Roberts. Or maybe Brad Pitt. I haven’t decided yet.