Crimson but no clover 

Unlike his fellow countrymen, Alejandro Inarritu and Alfonso Curon, whose films span a broad spectrum of genres, Guillermo del Toro, beginning with his award-winning Cronos in 1994, has confined himself primarily to the realm of the gothic horror fantasy. After edging into comic book territory with the two Hellboy films, he opted to go the sci-fi route with Pacific Rim, a lumbering, sea monsters versus giant robots CGI extravaganza that gladdened the heart of many a video game nerd. Crimson Peak finds the director wearing his Gothic hat but the result is more than a little disappointing. Co-written by Matthew Robbins, the screenplay unashamedly borrows elements from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and reconfigures them to the contours of a Hammer horror film.

The film opens in what appears to be New York, circa 1901. Mia Wasikowska is Edith Cushing (as in Hammer veteran Peter Cushing, get it?) a young wanna-be writer who, following the tragic death of her father, allows herself to be swept off her feet by the dashing Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet seeking investors for his fledgling mining project back home. Ignoring the admonishment of a doctor friend, Edith marries Thomas and then the pair, along with Thomas's minacious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), hightail it off to England to take up residence in the Sharpes' very Gothic, crumbling mansion which is set on a sprawling red clay plain that looks more remote than the surface of Mars. From the get-go Edith senses that there's something not quite right with the Sharpes, particularly Lucille, and pretty soon her fears mount when the same ghostly visions and manifestations that visited her when she was a child announce their presence anew. It soon turns out that the ghosts are not the real threat here; they're just trying to alert Edith to the real dangers in the house, namely her new husband and his conniving sister.

Stunning, sometimes off-kilter visuals have always been a hallmark of del Toro's films and in that regard he doesn't disappoint here. With its cavernous grand entrance foyer watched over by a rotting roof in danger of imminent collapse, a yawning staircase disappearing into the darkness upstairs and an ancient elevator that travels to the bowels of a dank and dark basement strewn with enormous stone vats full of crimson clay, the house, in particular, is a marvel of inspired production design. When the camera pans across the forbidding gloom one half expects to see Vincent Price or Boris Karloff standing in the shadows.

More's the pity then that the actual story del Toro has wedded to these eyecatching visuals is merely ho hum. Apart from a grisly murder, the first hour has all the import of a stuffy costume melodrama. When the narrative shifts to the mansion in question the film trots out a blood-soaked collection of generic scare tactics which recent low-budget horror items like Sinister, Insidious and even the del Toro-produced Mama, have milked to infinitely better effect. Frankly, it's all a bit tiresome. Perhaps del Toro should head down to the multiplex to check out what the competition is doing with the genre before he embarks on his next project.