The oft-busy Guillermo del Toro — visionary director and The Strain showrunner — had his latest project greet the silver screen last weekend. This film, Crimson Peak, which del Toro directed, co-produced, and co-wrote, is a Gothic romance that looks almost like a Edvard Munch painting, and translates to a mostly unique story that only del Toro could conjure up.
Del Toro’s other works — Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim to name a few — each retain a certain form of artistic value. His stories are always off-the-wall, stimulating, and sci-fi-esque. Moreover, the tidbit you’re unlikely to forget about a del Toro film is the elegantly painted frames, interspersed with costume precision and plenty of warm colors. Crimson Peak does not stray from this proverbial pack, either, for del Toro utilizes all of these elements to make something with a whole lot of artistry.
While it is pleasant to look at, Crimson Peak does carry a fairly predictable plot, with a stiff performance from Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and a climax that is given away far before the denouement. Further, the existence of the supernatural simply serves as a distraction. The cleverly conceived ghosts provide a scare or two, but that’s about all. They pull viewers away from the film’s main focus and seem added only because they were deemed ‘obligatory’ for such a macabre setting.
By the end credits, the story is wrapped up agreeably, but it is not the story that viewers will remember. The memorable facets are the still frames that del Toro and cinematographer Dan Laustsen create — with crimson clay seeping through the floorboards and fresh snowfall, and the decrepit mansion with its winding, rotting staircases. It’s a labyrinth of frights and complexion, but it does not rescue the rest of the film (namely the run-of-the-mill story). Crimson Peak is a movie of cosmetics and picture frame-worthy mise-en-scene, but it probably won’t win any Oscars.
Crimson Peak‘s story begins in the house of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman of means, vis-à-vis her industrialist father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). She sees the ghost of her dead mother who warns her of the eventual trouble that will come from “Crimson Peak.”
Edith, an aspiring author of ghostly novels, is then introduced to inventor and entrepreneur Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who visits town in hopes of reviving his English clay mining business. In search of philanthropy from Carter’s company, Sharpe makes a pitch before the board, displaying his rudimentary, scaled-down mining machine. Carter, seeing right through the young Brit, refuses to help, and hires a private detective to look into the “Baronet” and his sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
What Carter ultimately finds out about the Sharpes confirms his earlier dislike, and the builder forces the Sharpes to leave town, but not before Thomas has had ample time to seduce Edith. Soon after, when Edith is left alone and desperate, she elopes with Thomas and returns to Allerdale Hall, to live as his wife.
The mansion is sufficiently eerie; tall, skewed, and sinking into the mushy clay beneath the ground. Also, outside during snowstorms, the landscape takes on a crimson color because of the effusive clay. As Thomas becomes distant with Edith, she investigates the history of the mansion, and what she finds will drive a dagger straight through Lucille’s grand scheme. Further, what happens when Thomas decides to actually fall in love with his bride? Throw on top of this the presence of Edith’s loyal friend and potential suitor, Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam), and a strange love triangle emerges. All the while, Lucille creeps around every corner.
Del Toro succeeds mightily on a few levels: building this filmic world and sustaining it through color and the animation and liveliness of his characters. Where he falters slightly is the triteness embedded within acts two and three of the screenplay.
All things considered, Crimson Peak is worth a watch. Decide for yourself whether the ghouls and the apparitions warrant a place in this movie or not.
It’s hard to completely write-off a del Toro film, and that’s not what this review is setting out to do. Crimson Peak will please you on the aesthetic front — possibly more so than many other films this year.
His frames teem with life, with nuances of a Gothic mansion, and of the Gothic horror genre. Comparatively, Crimson Peak fits neatly beside films like The Others (2001), Haunted (1995), and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), to name a few. (We’ll get to see another film of this sort in Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein, set for release on November 25.)
While melodramatic by nature, Crimson Peak sets out to give you a scare, but also to introduce you to this alternative, sideways lifestyle gleaned from late 19th- and early 20th-century literature (then early films in the ’30s and ’40s). Performances from the leading cast (Wasikowska, Hiddleston, and Chastain) are praiseworthy, and the costumes, in relation to the snowy grounds, are perfectly pleasing. Plus, with Halloween right around the corner, perhaps Crimson Peak is the film for you.
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