CRIMSON PEAK and BLACK MASS

Last night, I dreamed of Crimson Peak, the site of a dilapidated mansion, where bloody ghosts whisk through the hallway and clay hills stain the snow a rusty red. Watching the trailer, I imagined Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie would be a seat-of-your-pants thriller, the jump-out-and-scare-you kind, but del Toro instead creates an unsurprising Gothic romance, where the archetypal Victorian landowner marries a young, virginal bride and brings her to his sinsister house to meet her fate.

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Poor Mia Wasikowska roams the house—with its beautifully worn-down, impossibly elaborate corridors—like the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca, but she’s confronted with the machinations of her new sister-in-law, a deliciously menacing Jessica Chastain. Crimson Peak is most fun when Chastain takes charge of the hackneyed premise, a spurned femme fatale awaiting her moment to strike.

A scarier movie in theatres now, Black Mass, offers a chilly look at Whitey Bulger, who grew into one of Boston’s most terrifying criminal overlords. The movie can be scant on actual information about his escalating crimes, but we leave shaken.

Black Mass sidesteps Whitey’s full criminal history to provide a look at two men using the system for their gain, and the long-standing awakening that finally brought them down. Years pass by, crimes are breezed over—but you can’t shake the glare of Johnny Depp’s eyes, eerily blue, leering like Hannibal Lecter ready for his supper. Black Mass is an elegy to the Boston of recent memory, with its rough-collar townies that took pride in preserving their neighborhood no matter the cost. And Depp undergoes a mesmerizing transformation. This is no Willy Wonka; Depp’s is a carefully modulated performance, a return to the good old days when he was committed to craft more than makeup. (Which, let’s not lie, is also impressive here.)

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Joel Edgerton has become the journeyman actor who elevates an ensemble; this may be his breakout role. He’s Matt Damon from The Departed without his smartass suaveness. Unlike that Martin Scorsese movie, however, which was a fast and furious retelling of Bulger, Black Mass weighs heavier. It’s more impressionistic, less plot- than mood-based. We have few characters to latch onto in this corrupted world. Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife Marianne is our best hope, for the few minutes she’s in the movie, and we want to urge her to flee immediately. Her private encounter with Bulger, in which he visits her bedroom to check up on her, unnerves more than anything Guillermo del Toro has to offer.

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