Disclaimer: I cannot believe that in this day and age, Singapore is still censoring films such as this. It gets slapped with a NC-16 rating (not for 16 years and under) and the sex scenes are cut?!
Guillermo del Toro's latest is not a horror house picture. It is a very stylish and gorgeously sumptuous gothic, tragic love story that appealed more to the eyes rather than the brain or heart.
With such a wonderful cast, it was a pity that del Toro (and co-writer Matthew Robbins) did not focus more on the story and tried to get more out of his stars. The chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston can be best described as frosty; that between Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain remained obtusely enigmatic; and although Charlie Hunnam and Wasikowska had some sparks, it was a pity they were not explored.
There were elements in the story that had some potential but they were merely skimmed through, which then begged the question, what was the purpose of bringing it out in the first place. The main mystery, on the other hand, was not un-expected, and del Toro could have pushed the envelop a lot further.
Having said that, at 119 minutes, the film did not really feel that long, and that really was due to del Toro's visual style. Throughout the film, he sustained a high level of creepiness and taut/tense atmosphere, and although the supernatural portions were not that scary they were effective in winding us up.
The cinematography by Danish Dan Laustsen was gorgeous and really helped to elevate del Toro's visuals. However, one aspect that this film did not score well in was the special effects. Yes, they were beautifully rendered (and very reminiscent of the del Toro-produced and Chastain starring Mama), however they lacked the originality and creep-factor of the practical effects in del Toro's masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth.
The two part that really lived up to del Toro's visions/visuals were hair, costume and make-up, and production design. Costumer Kate Hawley, Hair & Makeup head Jordan Samuel, and Production Designer Thomas E. Sanders really ought to get recognised at the Oscars.
Wasikowska was perfectly cast in the lead and she continued her trend of Victorian-esque heroines after Stoker, Madame Bovary, Jane Eyre and even Alice (of the Wonderland). However, casting her opposite Hiddleston (or the other way round whichever was first) was unfortunate as they did not have the necessary chemistry to spark and convince as lovers. They were better as in-laws in Only Lovers Left Alive.
Hiddleston was great as the tortured male protagonist and he could definitely sprout those Gothic romance lines convincingly, but as one-half of the central trio, he was the one that felt the weakest.
Chastain is a great actress, however as intriguing as she was in the first act, she got stale in the second act, and really only came back alive in the third.
The irony that they cast Hunnam as an American when he's British, and Chastain as English when she's American is not lost. Poor Hunnam was wasted.
This was a decent addition to del Toro's filmography, but for straight-up horror/super-natural nothing still beats Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone.