Let There Be Blood

Dear Guillermo del Toro:

Qué pasó? Did someone hijack your latest movie, Crimson Peak, and simply keep your name on the writing and directing credits? I smell a rat. Maybe Tony Scott? No, sorry, he’s dead. Please tell me it wasn’t Michael Bay. Anybody but Michael Bay.

Let me start over. Pan’s Labyrinth was just so good, maybe the movie of the year for 2006. That film was tight, Guillermo. You somehow managed to balance the authoritarian horrors of Franco’s reign during the Spanish Civil War with the traumatized imagination of a dreamy little girl, creating a sumptuous fairy tale that mined the bloody iconography of your Catholic upbringing in Guadalajara. The results were exhilarating — a sort of atheistic Grimms’ for a modern world torn apart by sectarian political violence.

The thing about Pan’s Labyrinth was that it revealed a unified artistic vision: narrative integrity and mythological zip combined with visual oomph and real-world details, all of it shot through with a fear and loathing that is distinctly existential. And that ghoul with the eyes in its hands? Creepiest shit I’ve ever seen, period.

But this new one? It might be crimson, but there’s no peak. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept: a haunted English manor presided over by a pair of anemic, incestuous siblings who seduce a young American heiress into their demonized lair. Such degenerate heritage is a Gothic set-up that Edgar Allan Poe played with umpteen times — especially in Fall of the House of Usher  — always to unnerving effect.

But, Guillermo, you make a poor Poe. Your narrative is a wet noodle: Instead of developing characters and advancing plot with anything resembling coherence, you create thumbnail sketches of genre types and then string them along a random inventory of horror-movie tropes. Everything — including legit frights — is sacrificed for the spectacular visuals you’ve become known for.

Mia Wasikowska, as the naive, romantic heiress Edith Cushing, seems more confused than scared about being taken hostage in a house that bleeds and screams, and Jessica Chastain, as the devious Lucille Sharpe, is wasted in a role that has her transitioning from sinister helpmeet to sister lover to mad slasher. Tom Hiddleston, as her bloodless, pussy-whipped brother, is pretty good. He’s very pale.

Guillermo, I was hoping your multi-million dollar Transformer knock-off, Pacific Rim (2013), was just a blip, a foot in the door, and then you’d get back to serious filmmaking. But now I’m worried. I fear you’ve been seduced by the big-budget sensationalism of Hollywood blockbusters, and now you’ve lost your edge, perhaps even your way. Hollywood is the goose that lays the golden turd.

Here’s to hoping you get back to being you instead of everyone else in Tinsel Town, Guillermo. And if not, I guess we’ll always have Pan’s Labyrinth. And The Devil’s Backbone (2001). And Hellboy (2004). Those were great movies, man. (Regal Cinemas, Cinemark 17) 

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