It’s pretty hard to lose with a Guillermo del Toro film. The fact that he’s one of my favorite directors notwithstanding, he’s just a Hell of a talented filmmaker by any standards. Does every one of his films resonate with EVERYONE? No, but that’s to be said with pretty much any director. As wonderful as his films are, Crimson Peak may not stand as perfect, but it certainly will remain as one worth recommending.
After a family tragedy, an aspiring writer is torn between her affection for a childhood friend and a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.
Oooo, spooky, right? It IS pretty spooky, too. However, don’t let that – or the trailers – try to fool you. This isn’t really a horror film, per se’. Crimson Peak is a Gothic Romance with some horror/ghost story chills. Not to say that del Toro shys away from any graphic blood or violence, as there are a couple of wince-inducing scenes, but that’s it. This is more of a 1940’s sort of eerie tragic love story. And though it may not reinvent that genre – and even uses all the tropes of said genre – Guillermo del Toro’s visual style makes up for so much.
Also to the film’s benefit is the complete commitment and talent of the cast. Everyone here is on their game. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, daughter of American engineer and industrialist Carter Cushing (excellently played by Jim Beaver of Supernatural fame, for starters), who is suspicious of Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe, who has come from England to seek funding for his new mining machine that will revolutionize the industry. He is of noble stature back in England, but he and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) are near penniless just the same. When Carter Cushing discovers something about Thomas’s past, he pays him off to return to England. Not long after, tragedy strikes, and Edith is comforted by, of course, Thomas. Soon, she is whisked off to live with him – and Lucille – in their magnificently dilapidated mansion in the middle of the English countryside.
And what a mansion it is. You know those films where a location is like a character in the film? Yeah, it’s like that. Massive, labirynthian, full of creaks and moans, so much character, so much detail, and yet, natural and authentic to the eye. It’s a marvel of production design. In the main foyer, the roof is falling apart and you can see the sky above, as leaves or snow fall to the floor creating a sort of area rug in the space. The walls bleed in the stone cellar with the red clay that the house is built upon, that clay also coloring the snowy ground outside in the winter. It creates a visual you know del Toro had in his head that demanded to be visualized on screen.
That first half of the film, that leads up to the arrival at this estate, also provides the needed emotional connection to these characters. Building a stronger connection to them makes for more impact later on.
The visual effects in Crimson Peak are also beautiful. I know there has been some trepidation regarding this because that last time someone really tried to use CG effects to create scary haunted house stuff was in the ever so awful remake of The Haunting directed by Jan de Bont. There was nothing scary or chilling about those effects because they were far too clean and sterile. The ghostly effects here in Crimson Peak already have the benefit of coming from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. That’s gotta count for something (it totally does). Plus, the technology is better now, and the style in which they created them is infinitely better. They ARE creepy, and a bit unsettling in a macabrely beautiful way.
Some viewers won’t see past the same old devices used in this film. But with Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro made his version of a classic Gothic Romance using his incredible eye for detail. And even I kept thinking of the direction the film might go. Perhaps I over-thought it, because it ended up satisfying to me. I rather enjoyed Crimson Peak, and to me, the lack of narrative inventiveness and the remarkably sumptuous visual design balance each other out, so I give it just shy of four kittenhands. It’s certainly well worth the big screen viewing.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, wondering if you can guess who actor Doug Jones played in this. 🙂