Beware Crimson Peak
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young aspiring independent writer who can see ghosts, and after a short encounter begins to fall for the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddlestone). Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) are in New York looking for funds to continue their clay mining operation. After a tragedy befalls Edith, she seeks solace in the arms of Thomas and weds him, returning to his family home in Cumberland, England. It soon becomes apparent that the Sharpe’s family home of Allerdale Hall is home to more than Edith, Thomas & Lucille. As Edith begins to see disfigured restless spirits that haunt her new home, the dark and dangerous past of Allerdale Hall creeps to life and shows her that the Sharpes are not all they seem.
Guillermo Del Toro is never more at home than when he is negotiating the perilous terrors of the Horror genre, just like a kid in a toyshop beaming with excitement at the potential it all has to offer. And just like a kid, he puts all of his heart and soul into the stories with the toys at his disposal. As a result Crimson Peak is a loving Gothic horror full of lavish imagery and lucid colours, but somewhat lacking in fear. That being said Crimson Peak is not that kind of horror, it’s sole pursuit is not to make you jump, but to present you with creepy images and unsettling noises that create atmosphere. And atmosphere is something Del Toro is great at doing.
If you look at each of Del Toro’s films, it’s clear he is a master builder of worlds that look like our own but are so very different. From the fantastical lairs of Pan’s Labyrinth, the hidden cities from Hellboy II: The Golden Army and the dystopia of an earth battling massive monsters in Pacific Rim, the aesthetics and mise-en-scène of any Del Toro film is exploding with detail. Crimson Peak is no different, Allerdale Hall is a haunted house that will do down in the history of Horror film houses, not just for it’s imposing outward appearance but the crumbling interior design as well. The rotting infrastructure, the bleeding walls and the howling winds all breathe life into the house, not to mention the haunting wails of the spirits within. The problem that any film that aims for a Gothic appearance will have is that it is no longer a truly frightening look. Like many genres, especially comedy, the methods and tactics of evoking fright have evolved, making the old ones not necessarily redundant, but less effective. However, though it may not be entirely scary to look at, it most certainly is fun and fascinating.
As for the story being told within the halls of Allerdale, disappointingly it’s nothing really new. There are plenty of fresh bells and whistles attached to it to give it a unique vibe, but even with them the story is a bit straightforward and the motives of the shadier characters surprisingly transparent. At the beginning of the film Edith is told that her ghost tale manuscript requires a love story, feedback that she protests is because she is a woman, then naively or not her character easily falls into the clutches of a love story within the actual film. Based on the first scenes of action and dialogue of Edith, she comes across as a strong, independent young woman who wouldn’t fall in love so easily, making it a touch out of character. Though love is a theme readily available in different forms in many of the classic Gothic Horrors, I feel the story could have benefited from Edith remaining steadfast in her views.
Despite the shortfalls in the story, the performances by the brilliantly cast Tom Hiddlestone and Jessica Chastain are gleefully colourful as they fully embrace the dark sides of their characters and thoroughly make them menacing. Unfortunately the equally talented Mia Wasikowska winds up a touch on autopilot as soon as her character becomes the victim of the piece, no fault of her own but more the task her character is given.
If your looking for a film that will keep you up at night then Crimson Peak is not the answer, but if your looking for a journey through Gothic horror then your in for a treat. Crimson Peak is a playful homage to an oft forgotten genre of film that is well worth your time. It won’t blow your mind, but like a theme parks best ghost train, you’ll have some fun along the ride.