Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, and Doug Jones
Synopsis: 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.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
I should point this out right from the beginning, despite the ads and the heavy use of the horror elements, Crimson Peak is not a full blown horror film. Guillermo del Toro has instead created a wonderful, dark, twisted and beautiful gothic romance. The film also brings del Toro back to his Pan’s Labyrinth sense of wonderment and style, and it’s great to finally see him come back to it.
Set in the early 1900s, Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer who wants to be taken seriously. One day she is at the office of her father Carter (Beaver), a powerful businessman, who hears a proposition from Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston). The business proposition involves Thomas’ estate in England, Allerdale Hall, which sits on top of a valuable mine. However, during Thomas’ stay he manages to win Edith’s heart, much to Carter’s dismay, and his enigmatic sister, Lucille (Chastain). Eventually, Edith marries Thomas and relocates to Allerdale Hall where she finds out that the house not only holds dark and terrible secrets, but also ghosts, which remind her of a warning she got as a child from her departed mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
Again, Crimson Peak is as del Toro has said, a gothic romance and has stressed that it is not a horror film. The film does have many horror elements scattered throughout the film, but for the most part del Toro sticks to his word about it being a gothic romance. Matter of fact, Edith even says at one point when presenting her book that it’s “more of a story with a ghost in it.” This may turn off some people, especially those waiting for a full blown horror film, but don’t worry, there are enough horror elements in the film to hold you over.
The cast is pretty spot on here. Mia Wasikowska’s Edith is filled hopes and dreams, but seeing it slowly get taken away from her as the film progresses and seeing her go through the horrors and spirits she sees in the house. However, the character falters a bit, because all the ambition is put to the side once she enters the house, it’s not too surprising since the focus becomes Edith’s terrors, but a silver lining is that Edith becomes more powerful and her survival instincts take over. Wasikowska does great regardless.
Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas is nicely layered as a charming, sympathetic and mysterious figure that fits him perfectly. You’re conflicted as to whether or not Thomas actually loves Edith or is he merely acting a part of whatever scheme he and his sister have up their sleeves. Charlie Hunnam pops in as an old friend of Edith and now a doctor that has his own practice. His character isn’t really used too much and it’s a bit of a shame, but he is the least interesting character in the film. Jim Beaver’s father character is surprisingly greater than I thought it would be, even though Beaver is great in pretty much anything he does. Burn Gorman also pops in as a investigator of sorts that works for Carter.
However, this film belongs to Jessica Chastain’s Lucille Sharpe. Chastain is one of the best actress in Hollywood today and she always gives it her all in whatever role she in, and Crimson Peak is no different. Her portray of Lucille is closed off and cold to Edith most of the time, but there is something about the way she acts for the rest of the film is what makes her more interesting and mysterious, especially in the end, when we finally see her reveal everything.
Of course, if you know Guillermo del Toro’s work, you know he has a knack for amazing visuals and Crimson Peak may be one of best works yet. Del Toro actually built Allerdale Hall and rigged the set to make it an actual character in the film, and there is no doubt that Allerdale Hall is a character in the film. The production design is top notch, and dare I say, del Toro’s best he’s ever done. Everything down to the clothing, the decaying house and the walls of the massive house even look like they’re bleeding (will make more sense when you watch the film). Even if whatever reason you don’t like the film, you’ll at least me impressed by how beautiful it looks.
The film is a bit of a slow burn, with the last twenty or so minutes not only revealing everything, but also turning the film up a notch. The film is also surprisingly bloody. I know it’s teased in the film and in the trailers, but actually watching it was shocking to me. However, del Toro manages to make it fit and a part of the story, rather than just have violence for the sake of having violence. Moreover, the ghosts in the film also serve a purpose and are not there for the sake of a scare. The ghosts are rather creepy at first glance, but it seems that ghosts are all CGI, which seeing the production design, I can see why del Toro would rather go the CGI route since he probably spent most of the budget on the house alone.
All in all, Crimson Peak is a dark and twisted story that could be a hard watch sometimes, but there is something beautiful and touching in its own weird and twisted way. The film does take a while to get going, but the performance, especially the standout of Jessica Chastain, and subtle nuances laid throughout the story will keep you going along for the ride. While not a full blown horror film, the gothic romance angle of Crimson Peak is beautiful enough for me to appreciate.
4.5 out of 5