Well folks, it’s that time of year again, so why not do something spooky/gothic/horror in nature? What’s that? You want me to take a break from all of those Batman reviews I’ve been doing? Well, I’m not finished with that, but since Batman Returns is effectively a Christmas movie, there’s time enough. So, with that being said, this is Crimson Peak.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro (known to comic fans for directing Hell Boy, and everybody else for Pan’s Labyrinth and being 1 of the best directors in the world when it came to dark fantasy and making children’s story archetypes for grown-ups), Crimson Peak has been described as a haunted house movie for grown-ups. Set at the turn of the 20th Century in both the United States and Britain, our story centres around a young woman named Edith Cushing (played by Mia Wasikowska, who was also Alice in Tim Burton’s excruciating 2010 interpretation of American McGee’s Alice, or “Alice In Wonderland”). She lives a sheltered life under her widower father’s wing, and aspires to be a writer of ghost stories, despite her editor suggesting she writes romance (something that was possibly expected from a woman in those days). One day, a man with The Adams Family written all over him named Thomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston, i.e. Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) appears to Edith’s father with a business proposal for a machine that would aid his family’s mining business. When he is turned down, he finds other ways to get his foot in the door…such as wooing Edith behind her father’s back. When Edith’s father dies in gruesome circumstances, Thomas and Edith get married and move to England, where the Sharpe family home is. It is here where Edith lives in a dilapidated mansion with her new husband, and his sister Lucille (played by Jessica Chastain as a grown up Wednesday Adams), and here is where she realises just how dark her new situation has become (A house full of ghosts is the least of your worries in a place like this). The house is also sinking into the ground, which is bright red in colour, hence…Crimson Peaks.
In the visual department (including cinematography), Crimson Peak is a pure joy for the eyes (especially for those who like their gothic horror). The backgrounds, the costumes, the Sharpe Manor itself, the colours, textures and bleakness, are all really well presented, beautiful and reeking of both damp and character. Even if a Del Toro story isn’t up to much, you can’t deny that he delivers in this area each and every time. Do I have any criticisms in this area? perhaps. The ghost designs are well done, but the CGI wasn’t as nicely executed as I had hoped. Despite this, they did a wonderful job.
Acting-wise, I thought everybody did a very good job, and Jessica Chastain as Lucille is…very unnerving. She’s a very cold person to Edith, but…at least lukewarm to Thomas. Tom Hiddleston as Thomas is very much a grey area character, and it comes across either quite well or quite confusingly. Mia Wasikowska does a good job, but the way I see it, she is basically playing Alice again in this bizarre scenario that just so happens to be taking place in real life. Did I tell you there’s a nice little dog in it? It really is a cute one.
The story in Crimson Peak is…disappointing. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. But it does fall down quite often. For 1 thing, it’s pretty slow (spends most of its time in 2nd and occasionally 3rd gear, and doesn’t reach for 4th or 5th for a while). The first act is a bit of a snail’s trail, the second act falls a bit flat in its build-up, and then in the third act everything goes ‘bang!’ (not literally). We’re meant to be creeped out during the second act, but the problem comes from the fact that we’re given too much information, and at the same time, not much character development. Due to the amount of information being told (more so than shown, I might add), attempts to be scary don’t really work anymore. I mean, the opening shot of the film is of Edith showing us how much she has been through by the end of the film, and immediately, this kills the scares. Why? Because you know she comes out of it alive (or does she?). At the same time, they attempt to humanise the villains somehow, from us seeing their planning and scheming, but somehow have failed to develop them beyond their troubling highlights in life. The characters aren’t dislikable, which is why they’re rated higher by me. But I think they could have been better.
What about the music? Believe it or not, I don’t remember much about it. I guess you could say it played in harmony to the visuals, but all of the attention was on the visuals, and other times the music seemed a little too upbeat for the movie in the 1st act. But who knows. Nothing stood out as being memorable or terrible, and therefore it’s probably fine. There was more playing in the atmosphere and sounds than in usage of music.
Would I recommend Crimson Peak? Yes, if you’re looking for a film to inspire you visually as an artist or filmmaker. Yes, if you’re a fan of Guillermo Del Toro and are happy enough with anything he does that was better than Chronos (which it definitely is). No, if you’re looking for something to give you a good scare and a few nightmares (although if you’re a child, this might do already do that). And no, if you’re looking for a deep, engaging story with well-written characters. It’s not a particularly scary film, but it is very stylised, which has an appeal in its own right. It’s quite fun to watch on halloween, and probably more fun with those who aren’t into horror movies (and aren’t desensitised by them). My advice? watch it on TV with some friends.
CGI/Special Effects: **1/2