In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers.
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro
With more than a few touches of Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (Jessica Chastain’s “Lucille” seems clearly inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s legendary villain “Mrs. Danvers”), Crimson Peak is a stunningly beautiful addition to Guillermo del Toro’s ever-growing catalog.
Young and independent aspiring author Edith Cushing (prolific actress Mia Wasikowska of Chan wook-Park’s awesome Stoker) lives a fulfilling life with her successful businessman father, Carter (Supernatural’s Jim Beaver) in upstate New York. Over a decade ago, her mother (played by del Toro regular Doug Jones) died, and immediately returned in her ghostly form, simply to warn Edith of “Crimson Peak”… whatever that means. Enter charming English inventor Thomas Sharpe (the Thor franchise’s Tom Hiddleston) and his creepy sister, Lucille (two time Oscar-nominated Chastain) and immediately, their presence and possible ulterior motives don’t sit right with dad – especially once Mr. Sharpe sets his romantic sights on innocent Edith. Eventually, Edith marries Thomas and she is whisked away to the Sharpe family homestead; Allerdale Hall in Britain – where quickly, she begins to see a myriad of different ghosts, who just may be trying to tell her something.
Guillermo del Toro has created some heavy-duty atmosphere with Allerdale Hall. The massive, multi-story home is literally sinking into its red-clay foundation and the damp rot penetrating the building’s bones has left a massive hole in the center of the home’s ceiling. This set-up gives del Toro ample opportunity to fiddle with sound (as the building constantly shifts), and provide surreal creepiness via the ever-present floating debris and light snowflakes falling through the roof. There’s also the lovely and symbolic (you’ve seen it in the trailers) soaking of the pure white snow from below – with the blood-red clay of the earth supporting the massive structure. It’s these many images which del Toro delivers, that will have you smiling and internally clapping for their just plain awesomeness.
Also of note in the sound department – the divine scene of Lucille caring for an ill Edith. I’ll offer no spoilers, only a light reminder to pay close attention to the sound design here. Quite simply, it’s deliciously evil.
del Toro also uses some fun, silent film era transitions – the picture frequently moves into the next scene through a circle wipe – while also drawing attention to a particular object in the shot. It’s definitely old-school and feels so right for Crimson Peak.
And as the climax began, I was struck by a serious call-out to the days of old – looking back on the Universal Monsters classics and the work of Hammer Studios – what with running women, followed by their flowing gowns as they give chase through the overwhelming, gothic architecture of Allerdale Hall.
Performance-wise, these are all seasoned veterans of the screen, so they bring plenty of cache as well as quality to their roles. Mia Wasikowska is a perfect lead to take us on the Crimson Peak journey. Early on, her Edith is strong-willed and no-nonsense, but later she becomes nothing more than a damsel in distress. It’s a treat to see her play both roles in the same picture – all the while keeping both sides to Edith believable and the transition to helpless ingénue, authentic. Hiddleston and Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam (as Edith’s childhood love, Dr. Alan McMichael) are the two male leads. And while they deliver solid turns in their respective roles, Crimson Peak truly belongs to the ladies.
As mentioned above, Chastain practically steals the show with her turn as the mysterious and vicious sister. She hits all the right notes, bringing us a character we love to hate. There’s not a great deal of depth in Lucille – she’s pretty one note-evil – but would it have been such a stretch to offer a supporting actress Oscar nod? Hmmm…
Speaking of Oscars, the film was wrongfully denied any such attentions – certainly neglected in several technical categories, including Costume Design and Art Direction. I find it simply shocking that another horror film was given that patented Academy Award shaft. Ahem.
I found the lengthy introduction of the characters and their histories quite intriguing. The film definitely takes its time to get to the more gruesome aspects of the story (all very well mirrored in the book which Edith is writing – these comparisons were all a great deal of fun!) Unfortunately, the many surprises and secrets the characters (as well as Allerdale Hall) keep so well hidden from one another, aren’t quite as successful in their clandestine delivery to the audience. Crimson Peak is a gloriously rich journey, but there’s just not much in the way of heavy-duty twists and turns. You’ll see all of the revelations from a mile away. Perhaps these secrets were not meant to be the “big thing” of the picture, but a few more “OMG” shockers could have done wonders.
The film has plenty of spooky scares and tense sequences. Of note is the bathtub scene – no doubt inspired by Kubrick’s The Shining. Lots of good jumps and the eerie creature effects certainly help those jolts hit hard.
I was also struck by the very violent deaths in the film. I’ll give nothing away here, but there was no romanticism in the ghoulishness and ferocity of several of the characters’ untimely ends. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED them, but “ouch” doesn’t begin to describe my reaction.
Overall, Crimson Peak is not life-changing (thus the 4-star rating), but it’s certainly not worthy of some of the beatings it received upon its initial release. It’s one heckuva visual stunner, with atmosphere for days and solid performances from a gaggle of acting pros. Absolutely worth your time.
Crimson Peak is available now on-demand (on some platforms), with a DVD/Blu-Ray release date of February 9th. Perhaps not one to own forever and ever, but it’s certainly one to see.