Crimson Peak’s director, the unique and visionary Guillermo del Toro, has said that he wasn’t out to make a horror film with his latest effort, but rather a gothic romance.
That he has done, to the effect of a visceral product that, while somewhat run-of-the-mill, stands apart from other fright flicks being released this with a tense ambience, stern attention to detail, and del Toro’s trademark undertone of morbidity.
In Crimson Peak, we meet Edith, a young writer with a desire to be published who – yes – has had encounters with ghosts. She comes across the ostensibly charming Thomas Sharpe as he arrives in America seeking funding from Edith’s father invention proposal, capturing Edith’s heart in the process and beginning the chain of events sending her to the titular mansion.
And that’s where the fun begins.
The house is unquestionably the star of the show, itself a nuanced but deadly character in its debilitating state. While not as emotionally complex as some of del Toro’s previous offerings (i.e. Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage), Crimson Peak may be his greatest visual effort, as del Toro’s keen eye for detail of the macabre variety is constantly apparent in the many rooms – secret or otherwise – of the mansion. Set production and cinematography are the film’s greatest strengths, the latter providing some of the most absorbing scenes you’ll see in any movie this year.
That’s not to take away from the film’s spookiest element however – the ghosts are definitely from del Toro’s fantastical mind, apparitions of torment that the audience won’t be able to take their eyes off of, no matter how much they might want to.
All the elements of Crimson Peak’s visual aesthetic factor into del Toro’s vision of a modern gothic horror, something rarely seen, or even attempted, in modern film.
Its story is also in tune with the old-fashioned genre, which is to say it’s relatively standard, reminiscent of a demented version of Wuthering Heights. You might know where the story is going next, but that shouldn’t diminish the strong acting that Crimson Peak has to offer.
Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, I Saw The Light) is downright mystifying as Thomas Sharpe – charming, conniving, tender, and suspicious all at once, resulting in Sharp being by far the most unpredictable and, to put it plainly, interesting characters. Jessica Chastain (The Martian, A Most Violent Year, Zero Dark Thirty) plays Lucille Sharpe, a clichéd figure but one portrayed so well by Chastain that it doesn’t matter. Even in a role seemingly out of her element, it’s as if del Toro wrote the script with her in mind. She continues to establish herself as a consistently powerful force in Hollywood.
Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) is comparably average as Edith, but then again, the story feels so familiar that we know her motivations and feelings by heart.
Crimson Peak breezes through its running time of over two hours, but in a way it’s welcoming. Del Toro takes careful consideration of the kind of film he’s producing and makes sure it isn’t too jarring for the modern audience, preventing what could have been a painfully slow behemoth of a film for an audience all-too used to immediate satisfaction.
That being said, when it’s time for del Toro to pull out all the stops and give the audience what it wants, he does it in droves…or buckets. He pushes the boundaries of Crimson Peak‘s R-rating in more ways than one as the story reaches its climax, a memorable and visceral roller coaster ride through deception and gore, fully living up to the film’s title.
At the very least, certainly enough to remind us that the director behind the more action oriented Pacific Rim and Hellboy films sometimes has a more mature craving to fulfill, and his hunger is visualized beautifully.
In a Nutshell
Crimson Peak is a refreshing work from a director who made a name on putting out refreshing works. Despite its standard plot, and some questionable logic by some of its characters, its visuals are a sight to behold, and the film’s atmosphere is as unnerving as it’s ghastly creatures.
7.5 / 10
Crimson Peak is rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam
Directed by Guillermo del Toro