Crimson Peak (2015)
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Sophisticated building in decay: Check
Supernatural phenomena: Check
Unheeded prophecy: Check
Woman in distress: Check
Unrequited love: Check
Guillermo Del Toro stole a page from the likes of gothic romantics Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley when he concocted “Crimson Peak.” As a gothic romance, it certainly checks out.
Only Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), American entrepreneur and father to Edith (Mia Wasikowska), had uncovered the truth about siblings Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), but his untimely death left Edith parentless, and madly in love with the debonair baronet Thomas. So Edith moves with him to his large but crumbling mansion in rural England, which he shares with his sister. Thomas is busy working on his latest invention, a machine he’ll use to harvest the red clay that his property sits on. Edith stays in the house, which she’ll soon discover is haunted by the ghosts her dead mother warned her about. The spirits have stories to tell, but Edith won’t listen. But as it turns out, the Sharpes’ intentions aren’t as they seem, and the real monsters are the ones still living. Edith slowly begins to uncover the secrets of Crimson Peak, but will she be too late?
Del Toro pulls from a rich gothic tradition in creating the world of “Crimson Peak.” The screen flourishes with an overwhelming abundance of deep reds and blacks, high-pitched piano notes, and precipitation of all kinds. The blustery snow leaves you feeling cold, whenever the horrifying supernatural elements aren’t already chilling you to your core. As an estate, Crimson Peak may be the film’s most important character. It’s what Downton Abbey is to “Downton Abbey.” But the walls of the home (and a roof which isn’t structurally sound, leaking leaves and snow at all hours) don’t provide any comfort. Regardless, the stylish set gives “Crimson Peak” a uniquely compelling personality. The walls seep blood-red clay, the same clay that’s causing the home to slowly sink into the ground. Del Toro’s ghosts are also of a beautiful, artistic sort. However pretty, these are the type of ghosts you dread to think could be real. You’d cover your eyes if they weren’t so intoxicating to look at.
Mia Wasikowska (who has played characters from Alice in Wonderland to Jane Eyre) is again typecast as the innocent, fair-skinned young lady in distress. Perhaps it’s because she’s so convincing in the role. Tom Hiddleston is a layered character that we never see properly fleshed out. He’s charming, but little else. Better is Jessica Chastain as the heinous Lucille, who isn’t as hesitant to show her personality, her motivations, or her strong emotions. Chastain isn’t the obvious choice for the role, but she pulls it off surprisingly well.
“Crimson Peak” pushes the envelope without pandering for cheap scares. This isn’t your father’s horror. But perhaps it is your great-grandfather’s. Del Toro’s obvious admiration of gothic horror bleeds through in the stunning (if not especially scary) “Crimson Peak,” and we’re all thankful for that.