The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
In the 1831 introduction to "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley described the genesis of her classic story. During an evening with her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and another guest, they got the idea to entertain one another by writing ghost stories. Mary Shelley couldn't come up with anything and went to bed, still thinking, and then became possessed by an image of a man lying on a table and slowly coming to life. Shelley recalled that she bolted awake, thinking, "I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.”
Director Guillermo del Toro has a similar belief that the images crowding his brain can come to life. He creates intricate worlds, overwhelming viewers with detail and drowning them with symbolism. The fact that most of what is onscreen is physical, rather than computer-generated, helps. "Crimson Peak's" atmosphere crackles with sexual passion and dark secrets. There are a couple of monsters (supernatural and human), but the gigantic emotions are the most terrifying thing onscreen. Del Toro's films can take Grand Opera emotion. In Victorian-era England, the Lyceum Theatre awed audiences with revolutionary stage effects designed to bring the horror of "Macbeth" (for example) to the audience in visceral new ways. Del Toro's style would have fit in with that. He has placed himself in a long tradition and he deserves to be there.
American heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), the heroine of "Crimson Peak," saw the ghost of her dead mother when she was a child, the shadow of its long fingers creeping along the wall (a steal from "Nosferatu"). As a young woman, living with her supportive father (a wonderful Jim Beaver), she prefers books to beaus, and is busy writing a ghost story ("Ghosts are a metaphor for the past," she states). When silly women sneer, "Jane Austen died a spinster," Edith replies coolly, "I'd rather be Mary Shelley and die a widow." Edith's bookish isolation vanishes when the mysterious British brother and sister Thomas and Lucille Sharp (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) arrive in town. The two have fancy English titles, but are penniless, begging for financial backing for one of Thomas' inventions. Thomas pursues Edith with burning sensitive eyes, all under his sister's watchful glare, and Edith falls hard. An optometrist named Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam, who was so sensitive and heroic in Del Toro's "Pacific Rim") is also interested in Edith, but cedes ground to Thomas, albeit with misgivings. Thomas marries Edith, and he, Edith and Lucille go back to England to the family estate, Allerdale Hall.
Allerdale Hall is when the movie really begins, but those preliminary sections, the immersion into Edith's world, are equally important. America is shown as a land of garden parties, flickering gas lamps, intellectual pursuits, family life. The colors are autumnal, mustards and oranges. Lucille slashes through that mellow golden landscape in fiery-crimson dresses or heavy all-black gowns. It's often raining, creating underwater-wavery shadows on the walls. But it's a civilized world with recognized rules. Allerdale Hall, on the other hand, is a black turreted ruin of a mansion standing in the middle of empty fields. Red clay oozes up through the rotting floorboards, coating the walls of the basement. The hall inside the main entrance reaches up three stories, and because of the roof's deterioration the hall is always filled with outside weather: falling leaves or snow. Allerdale Hall is a masterpiece of design (Thomas E. Sanders was the production designer) but also of conception. The house creaks, moans, shifts. And always, always that red clay, threatening to engulf them all.