Guillermo del Toro indulges his love of old Gothic chillers and ghost stories with the visually sumptuous Crimson Peak. It’s not one of his finest movies, but is still one that has a level of pizzaz and a well appointed cast.
In the late 19th Century in New York, young Edith Cushing(Mia Wasikowska) lives with her businessman father Carter(Jim Beaver). She has been tormented by ghosts since childhood, the first being a spectral visit from her deceased mother warning her “Beware of Crimson Peak” . Edith is a forward thinking woman when we rejoin her as a grown up and about to experience great changes in her life. The primary one is her meeting with Thomas Sharpe(Tom Hiddleston); an English baronet visiting America with his piano playing, all seeing sister Lucille(Jessica Chastain). Though Edith is a woman who chides at society’s placing of woman as just objects to be married off, she can’t help but be intrigued by the dark, handsome yet immensely charming Thomas, who we learn has a title but who has not much in the way of money. Her father disapproves of this match and has a detective do some digging. He learns something sinister, but the audience doesn’t know what. Brutality intervenes when Carter is gruesomely murdered, leaving Edith the heiress to his fortune. At this point, she decides to impulsively enter a whirlwind romance with Thomas . This results in marriage, which crushes the hopes of local doctor and family friend Alan McMichael(Charlie Hunnam). He has been in love with Edith as long as he can remember and was close with her father, so he’s naturally left feeling despondent by Edith’s rejection. Thomas brings Edith over to his large house in the English countryside. Although a grand house, it is dilapidated with a hole in the main roof that. The fact that the house is built atop a clay mine, which causes the substance to appear red against the wintery surroundings and often it leaks through the walls. The foreboding and decaying house also houses Lucille, who is regularly icy towards Edith and warns her not to wander around the house as there are areas deemed ‘unsafe’. With the house being so mysterious and a certain uneasy tension in the air with regards to the relationship between Thomas and Lucille, it’s not long before Edith begins seeing ghosts throughout the house. She’s understandably terrified, yet determined to figure out why they are haunting her new residence. Upon learning that the house is often referred to as Crimson Peak , she begins her journey even as she seems to be suffering in terms of physical health and emotional instability not helped by Lucille’s cryptic nature and how enigmatic Thomas is. Soon the history and secrets of the eerie house begins to surface gruesomely and things get more unbalanced for everyone involved, especially the increasingly tormented Edith. But what will the old house known as Crimson Peak reveal?
Guillermo del Toro is in the directors and writers seat and his style is evident from the get go. Even though it’s not one of his finest films and doesn’t quite have the power we usually expect from his output, del Toro still has a cinematic touch that can’t be denied. Crimson Peak isn’t exactly an out and out horror movie( as del Toro has stated numerous times in interviews), though it involves ghosts and much in the way of grisly and thrilling events. It owes quite a lot to Gothic romance and atmosphere of old school chillers of which del Toro is evidently a fan. And that isn’t to say, it just isn’t creepy in parts( it delivers on crafting something eerily lurid and unsettling). From the opening of Edith being tormented, there’s something unusual and on edge about it. Crimson Peak just isn’t your standard horror film in the conventional sense of the word even though it seems it is. It is in the horror genre and that is evident from its influences, yet its more of a ghost story with horror elements and dashes of twisted romance vibe going for it that’s very del Toro. There’s a level of almost fairy tale darkness and dramatic feeling to parts of it, mixed with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre esque ambience with the house becoming a looming and haunting presence throughout. This is something del Toro is known for, as well as splicing both beauty and brutality side by side. Both shock and ravishing visuals are present in Crimson Peak, with production design and simply bewitching cinematography that takes us into this creepy world of darkness and ghostly happenings. The special effects are used amazingly to craft the ghosts; often red and with what’s left of tissue flowing away like leaves in the wind. There’s a disquieting nature to the spectres and they sure are very spooky to behold. Plus when you’ve got the mind of del Toro working, you know you’re in for something unusual and lavishly baroque. If Crimson Peak was judged purely on its visual content, it’d be heralded as a Fantasia and cinema at its best. Sadly, there is more to a film than just what we see. It’s just a shame that sometimes the elements don’t mingle together as well as they could and some parts are left very vague. I think the sometimes predictable parts and how it can get long winded are what stops Crimson Peak being in the illustrious company of del Toro’s impactful masterworks. It just falls short of reaching those heights, but the score is one of cool atmosphere and melancholy refrains that suits the tone of the movie.
The cast adds strength to the uneven film, with the three principal stars all excellent. In the lead, Mia Wasikowska , with her arresting face and air of strength blended with vulnerability, is ideal casting as the young lady finding herself haunted by her surroundings. Yet Wasikowska wisely makes Edith not a shrill victim, in fact although she’s put through the emotional wringer, the character is determined and has agency despite the confusion surrounding her. Tom Hiddleston is all moody yet troubled soulfulness and Byronic charm as the husband who is clearly involved in something, we just aren’t sure how on board he is with it which adds to the ambiguity.
However it’s Jessica Chastain that provides the true acting standout in Crimson Peak. Alternating between icy, knowing and ultimately unbalanced, Chastain navigates this terrain with verve and really gets into the part. It’s through Jessica Chastain that Crimson Peak kicks into high gear in the layer stages as she’s so amazing to watch as her character goes off the deep end and then some. It’s obvious that she’s enjoying playing such a layered and unbalanced character and she truly delivers. As the noble and honest doctor pining after Edith, there is Charlie Hunnam. He probably has the least developed part but he does what he can with such scant material in the way of growth. An entertaining appearance comes courtesy of Jim Beaver, exuding wisdom and fatherly concern.
A ravishingly beautiful Gothic horror film influenced by the genre of old school horror, Crimson Peak has that going for it as it does have del Toro at the helm and a fine cast. I just felt that it did get a tad predictable and long winded for me and that stopped it from being in league of del Toro’s other films. Saying that, there is much to enjoy here I’ll give it that.