Crimson Peak, 2015.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver.
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.
Following in the footsteps of Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro returns to horror with the visually stunning Crimson Peak.
Waif Edith (Wasikowska) is a sheltered writer who also happens to see ghosts. From the off we know that things are going to be bloody as we see her standing in the snow-covered in blood, we then flash back to her first experience with a ghost. The effects throughout are reminiscent of Santi from The Devil’s Backbone with hints of the del Toro produced Mama. As we meet Edith as a young independent woman she is described as a spinster like Jane Austen. She retorts that she’d rather be like Mary Shelley who died a widow, therefore setting the scene for this Gothic romance.
The introduction of Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) sets Edith’s pulse racing and after a family tragedy and much mystery, she marries him and is whisked off to Allerdale Hall. Built from scratch for the film, the house has a life of its own. Reminiscent of the Stephen King story Rose Red, it’s a character in itself, with the red clay seeping from every crack and the house breathing and contorting as the drama continues. Crimson Peak relies heavily on its visuals and the house is the most interesting character that we meet throughout the film.
Whether something has been lost in translation, but the majestic dialogue of Del Toros’ earlier fairy tale horrors is lacking throughout. A final narrative echoes the final words of Backbone and throughout the dialogue feels slightly unnatural and stilted. This doesn’t hinder the enjoyment of the film as such but it ensures that Crimson Peak won’t be remembered as the greatest Del Toro film.
Tackling romance for the first time, del Toro is lucky to have two actors who share such strong chemistry. The central couple of Edith and Thomas are played with a soft touch that makes their initial romance exciting and realistic. Wasikowska slowly unveils the various layers of her character as the film progresses and she is forced to confront a series of different horrors. Similarly, Hiddleston proves to be a strong Gothic romantic lead, even amongst the mystery and darkness that surrounds him.
The standout character throughout is Jessica Chastain as the severely unstable Lucille Sharpe. Sister of Thomas she is constantly analysing each situation she’s in and assessing how to attack her prey. A scene as she feeds an unwell Edith in bed should be tender but instead it reeks of fears and uneasiness as she scrapes the silver spoon across the porcelain ball making a sound like nails on a chalkboard. She’s controlled but prone to moments of extreme violence – demonstrated in a heart pounding finale of violence and Gothic gore.
Crimson Peak does have one flaw which is impossible to overlook and this is simply that it is not frightening. True Lucille makes you uneasy in each scene she appears, but as Edith comes into contact with various ghosts and horrors, you never feel frightened or uneasy. Cronos has the premise of vampires, Pan’s Labyrinth has the fairy tale horrors and Backbone has the tension of waiting to see Santi. Crimson Peak lacks the strong narrative of del Toro’s earlier films but it is hugely enjoyable to watch and is one of the most visually stunning films of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Helen Murdoch is a freelance writer – Follow me on Twitter