In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers.
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After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, whom she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Edith Cushing's mother died when she was young but watches over her. Brought up in the Victorian Era she strives to be more than just a woman of marriageable age. She becomes enamored with Thomas Sharpe, a mysterious stranger. After a series of meetings and incidents she marries Thomas and comes to live with him and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe, far away from everything she has known. The naive girl soon comes to realize not everything is as it appears as ghosts of the past quite literally come out of the woodwork. This movie is more about mystery and suspense than gore.Written by
The "Land Certificate" Edith Cushing finds when looking inside the envelopes related to the former wives bears the cipher ER around the British coat of arms - should be VR (Victoria Regina) as they were from the late 19th century. See more »
Greetings again from the darkness. "It's not a ghost story. It's a story with ghosts." Leave it to writer/director Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, 2006) to make this distinction. The line is spoken by our lead character Edith, who is striving to write like her literary idol, Mary Shelley. She is explaining her most recent writing effort to a publisher, but the line also represents the movie we are watching ghosts appear (some grisly ones at that), but they certainly aren't the focus.
The story begins around the turn of the 20th century as young Edith has just experienced her first family tragedy, the passing of her mother. She grows into an independent young woman (played by Mia Wasikowska) being raised by her successful self-made-man father Curtis Cushing (played by Jim Beaver, "Justified"). Tip of the cap to del Toro for his tip of the cap to the horror film great Peter Cushing. Edith has remained steadfast in her independence despite the advances of her lifelong friend, the handsome Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam, "Sons of Anarchy"). Things change when a mysterious stranger sweeps into town. Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) seeks investors for his "clay harvester", a machine he designed to automate what now takes many men and much hard labor. The elder Cushing senses something is "off" about Sharpe and his sister and traveling companion, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), but the strong-minded Edith soon finds herself waltzing and blushing with Sir Thomas.
It would be pretty easy to recap the balance of the story, but that is actually the film's weakness. It plays like a re-imagined script from one of those old 1940's or 50's movies that I watched on Friday nights as a kid. In other words, it's not very frightening and the viewer's enjoyment is totally based on the atmosphere. Fortunately, that's where del Toro and his team excel. The set design (Tom Sanders) and costumes (Kate Hawley) are truly spectacular and among the best ever seen, especially for a horror movie. Dilapidated Allendale Manor features a hole in its roof allowing the elements to freely enter the colossal entry foyer. The furnishings and fixtures, as well as the layout of the house are perfection as a setting. The costumes for all characters are superb, but pay special attention to the fabrics and frills of Edith and Lucille. Camera work from Cinematographer Dan Lausten ties it all together for the eerie feel.
The film is so stunning and interesting to look at that it's actually quite easy to forgive a story that has little to offer, and often and I do mean often relies on horror film clichés in what should be moments of difference-making. Having five such talented lead actors, who each go "all in" for their characters, help us overlook the script weakness, and it's really the look and atmosphere of the film that make it worth watching not words I have written many times over the years. For del Toro fans, you should know that Doug Jones does play the creepy ghost that inspires Edith's first words (as narrator) "Ghosts are real, that much I know".
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