Writer and director Guillermo del Toro is known for his ability to bring his creative visions to life, from the creepy yet fantastic fairytale “Pan’s Labyrinth” to the monsters versus robots sci-fi movie “Pacific Rim”. Interestingly, his newest movie, “Crimson Peak”, is the least original or inspiring of his movies to date, yet it still brims over with the beauty of his vision, and with a story that feels like a homage to the Hammer horror films of the 1950s.
The film opens in late 1800s New York, and follows young aspiring writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). Edith states in the opening scene that she knows that ghosts are real; after her mother died fourteen years earlier, she appeared to her in a skeletal, ghostly form, warning Edith to beware of Crimson Peak when the time came. Now, Edith finds herself swept off her feet by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a mysterious stranger visiting from England with his cold sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), trying to find backers for a machine he invented to harvest clay from the soil of his decaying land at Allendale Hall. Despite her father (Jim Beaver) being wary of Thomas, and despite the obvious affection of her longtime friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), Edith marries Thomas and goes to live with him and Lucille. It isn’t long before ghosts begin appearing to Edith throughout the house, and that, combined with the odd behavior exhibited by Lucille, causes her to delve into the family’s strange past.
Guillermo del Toro took to Twitter not long before the film was released to make sure that viewers knew that “Crimson Peak” wasn’t a horror movie, but a gothic romance. That assessment is accurate, for while there are ghouls and scares aplenty in “Crimson Peak”, the core of the story revolves around Edith and the Sharpes. Wasikowska does a fine job as the brave, intelligent young heroine. It’s really hard to hate anyone Tom Hiddleston plays, but he strikes a good balance between sinister and charming. But it’s Jessica Chastain who really steals the show, but possibly not in a good way. As the insane Lucille Sharpe, she speaks most of her dialogue in a slow, sinister whisper, reciting some really weird revelations that make you wonder how Edith didn’t realize there was something up sooner. Rubbing a dead butterfly on your cheek would normally be a dead giveaway, right? At times like those, Chastain is so over-the-top it’s laughable, but the problem is, I don’t think the audience is supposed to be laughing.
Del Toro does a good job building suspense throughout the film, however, even if the climax gets to be too over-dramatic. There are the scenes that are meant to scare—Edith wandering about Allendale Hall, for instance, a skeletal apparition creeping up behind her—and then there is the overall mystery of the Sharpes and their home. Both are enough to keep the viewer fully engrossed in the story.
This really is a film that places style over substance though, and it is beautiful to look at. The costumes and sets are all gorgeously detailed. The colors in the opening scenes in New York are primarily warm, and grow cold and grey the minute the characters arrive at Allendale Hall. The use of red and white is particularly brilliant. For the most part, the red that stains the snow and the halls of the house is that of the clay beneath the surface of the ground, but its resemblance to blood purposely makes everything appear more sinister.
Between its use of brilliant reds and its use of the horror genre to tell a story about a messed up family, “Crimson Peak” feels like a modern Hammer horror film in more ways than one. It’s fun to watch it as a throwback to that era—whether Del Toro intended that or not—as it is equal parts campy, scary, and dramatic. But as far as standing out as an original piece of filmmaking, “Crimson Peak” leaves a lot to be desired.
Runtime: 119 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre