Crimson Peak was finally released a few days ago, just in time to catch the Halloween crowds. The trailer promised a creepy film even if it was light on plot details (a nice change really).
To summarize the story: after a recent tragedy, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) flees Buffalo NY, in the arms of the dark and brooding newcomer Lord Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). When she arrives at Allerdale Hall his family’s ancestral home, she realizes that the Sharpe’s have dark secrets that run deep. Will Edith discover the truth of Crimson Peak before it’s too late?
Crimson Peak isn’t a horror movie by today’s usual standards. As director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro has said many times, Crimson Peak is a Gothic Romance, not a horror movie.
He’s telling the truth, if you enter Crimson Peak looking for a supernatural horror film, then you’re probably going to leave the movie muttering to yourself and generally unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, there is horror in Crimson Peak, there are ghosts and there is gore. It wouldn’t be a del Toro film without them (okay, Pacific Rim lacked all three but whatever kaiju!). The horror of Crimson Peak can be found in the creeping sense of dread that permeates the entire film. This is a film that to be successful relies heavily on its atmosphere, and it works.
The plot of Crimson Peak is the weakest aspect of the movie, it’s a cobbled together list of cliches and aspects of the genre that del Toro and Matthew Robbins needed to touch on. Don’t expect for this film to pull a fast one on you, it’s all pretty obvious. That being said the film never suffers for it. The plot is the vechile that drives you through the world that the film creates and the world of Crimson Peak demands to be looked at.
In one of his interviews with IGN, del Toro explains that “he’s never colour corrected a film as much as he’s colour corrected Crimson Peak” It shows. The film is gorgeous to look at and the colours tell their own story. Crimson Peal starts out in muted sepia tones giving the illusion that you’re looking at an old photograph. As the supernatural creeps into the film so do other colours specifically greens and blues and reds (it is called Crimson Peak after all). The costuming also reflects the obsessive focus on colour choice. The Sharpe siblings in their dark blue costumes stand out in the light toned Buffalo, but when they return home they practically blend into the walls of the house.
I found Mia Wasikowska’s performance as Edith Cushing a little flat, she serves the function of an innocent character being dragged kicking into the world of experience. She follows the plot blindly until the final third of the film where she’s forcefully given her own agency and her fate is put in to her own shaking hands. There are a few scenes where she’s able to showcase a range of emotional responses, but she comes off as one dimensional in comparison to the egnimatic Sharpe siblings.
At first the role of the leading man Thomas Sharpe seems like the usual Tom Hiddleston fair. Lord Sharpe is attractive in that dangerous way, he’s hiding something and you like Edith want to know what it is and why. Sharpe’s character is coded as brooding not only by his habitual black clothes but by Hiddleston himself. The viewers have come to expect a certain type of role from him, and he delivers, at least for a while. As the film progresses his presence diminishes and his sister’s grows. Hiddleston manages to smoothly transition between distant and approachable. You find yourself liking him even if you can’t truly trust him.
Jessica Chastain steals this movie as the creepy Lady Lucielle Sharpe. A character who manages to be a homage to all the creepy older siblings and mothers of the genre, while at the same time being something completely new and refreshing. Chastain plays the role with a quiet intensity, that slowly builds up to an explosion in the final act of the film. From the moment she appears on screen the viewer knows that she is a character who cannot be trusted but you just don’t know why yet. Chastain’s performace was hands down my favourite part of the film
Next to the Chastain it’s the house that steals your attention. In the trailer for the film Tom Hiddleston tells the audience in voice over:
A house as old as this one, becomes in time a living thing. It may have timber for bones and windows for eyes, and sitting here all alone, it can go slowly mad. It starts holding onto things, keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be. Some of them good, some of them bad, and some should never be spoken about again.
The house is a character in it’s own right. The Sharpe siblings with their failing fortune are unable to take care of Allerdale Hall leaving it dilapidated and sinking into the ground. The house is soaked in symbolism, from the moths that cover the walls to the caved in roof it’s easy to get distracted reading into their meanings. The three story house with working elevator was built on a sound stage in Toronto. While watching the movie I couldn’t help but feel depressed that I would never be able to take a tour of the set, because it was gorgeous.
The ghosts play even less of a role in the story than I was expecting. Early on in the film Edith meets with a publisher over her recently completed manuscript. When the publisher notices there is a ghost in her novel Edith tries to explain to him that the ghosts are a metaphor for the past. This line mentioned a few more times in passing is the explanation for the ghosts in the film. Horror isn’t drawn from their existence, though some of them are pretty creepy (I’m looking at you Mother Ghost from the beginning). It is what the ghosts represent to the characters who see them. I found the look of the ghosts clashed with the rest of the film. Where the majority of the effects used in Crimson Peak were practical, the digital overlaying of the ghosts didn’t really blend in with the rest of the set. They had a plastic look to them that stood out against the decaying look of the film. I liked the more subtle representations that appeared throughout the film. During one scene Edith is exploring the Allerdale Hall and passes a wheel chair. The camera rests on the chair for a few moments and the viewer can faintly see a smokey outline of a person sitting in the chair.
Crimson Peak is a love letter to a genre that hasn’t gotten enough air time is the last few years. In an age of found footage and low budget horror, Guillermo del Toro creates a film that’s gorgeous to look at and dripping with atmosphere. If you haven’t already, this is a film that you should go see on the big screen. The more I think about this film the more I find myself liking it. I love movies with layers and like Pans Labyrinth before it, Crimson Peak does not disappoint. Will you be scared, probably not. Will it stay with you? Yes, yes it will.