Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) meets a mysterious stranger (Tom Hiddleston) who in times of tragedy provides comfort enough to entice her into whisking away to England away from a much more suitable suitor (Charlie Hunnam) to live in his decaying mansion with his sister (Jessica Chastain). Walking into a marriage knowing very little about your choice of husband isn’t generally a great idea and this time is no exception, Edith has little conception of what awaits her and attempting to escape the ghosts of her past only brings her closer to new, more dangerous ones.
Our leading ladies are neither of them strangers to the horror genre and seem to take to it quite well. Chastain especially, gives an unforgettable performance as the mysterious and (pun-intended) sharp Lucille. Her last outing in Mama may have gone fairly unnoticed and under appreciated as the decent film that it was, but this time there’s no escaping her haunting performance, it blows the last out of the water. While Mama may have been dark, this is looking at dark in the rear view. This is a film of accents, Chastain being American changing to English, Hunnam being English and changing to American, Wasikowska being Australian but changing to American, and Hiddleston…well using his own accent actually and in quite a surprise they mostly do quite well. Wasikowska does feel a little over the top with her accent and her performance, it certainly is not the calibre that Chastain gives and is much less memorable but for the most part a decent job just occasionally feeling slightly forced.
The men are of a similar pattern, while Hiddleston’s Thomas is of a good calibre, Hunnam feels readily replaceable as the simple role of well-meaning man who wants to save the girl, it is not particularly a complex character. It feels more as though they were simply going for the classic look of American good guy which they got, but it’s nothing of note.
The story though, does live up to Guillermo del Toro’s standards, the horror aspects are neatly woven throughout and not overwhelming. Though much of it does play out like a drama the moments of gore and terror approach quietly and hit hard which somehow makes it more successful as a horror than if it were a constant barrage of blood and guts. It’s almost a quiet haunting, though not a literal one, the approach it takes is to draw you into the characters before giving you moments where you want to look away but can’t. The choice of not throwing itself in the audiences face but instead to put emphasis on the development of the characters is one I can definitely respect.
Overall it is a haunting, and most definitely creepy story that develops well and reveals itself at a good pace with an almost perfect amount of gore and ghosts to make it not too much for the more squeamish but enough to satisfy an audience that has been made numb to violence by constant exposure. I couldn’t say that it’s a film for everyone but I will say that the horror genre is a hard one to crack and make something lasting and not simply sequel bound before it’s begun. Most fall short but this is definitely an admirable effort.