Crimson Peak Review

Posted: October 18, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

crimson_peakWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

The horror genre has been going through something of a renaissance over the last year and a half. The Babadook took its craft seriously, added levels of interpretive detail, and was intelligently written by and for adults. Meanwhile, this year’s It Follows may have been a little less sophisticated than The Babadook, but it made up for that with lots of style and a clever high concept.  Now, Crimson Peak has entered the fray. Unlike the aforementioned films, which were made by relative newcomers, Peak comes from genre expert Guillermo del Toro, and sees his return to the genre he build his reputation on.

Set in the early 1900s, Crimson Peak follows Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring horror story writer and the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Carter is approached by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British inventor seeking funding for a project. Carter refuses, but Thomas takes a liking to Edith. The two begin a courtship and quickly marry. Thomas takes Edith to live in his decaying mansion in England, along with Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Not only is the house in a decrypt state, but Edith is certain she keeps seeing unknown figures walking through the halls. These figures quickly reveal themselves to be ghosts and begin to more directly plague Edith. Fearful, she turns to Thomas and Lucille who both dismiss her claims. This, in conjunction with Thomas’ late night disappearances, cause Edith to question the siblings’ motives.

While Guillermo del Toro is well-versed in horror trappings, I do think this is something of a leap for him. Movies like The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth used horror iconography to tell intimate dramas, while his Hellboy series used similar visuals as a spring broad for action. With Crimson Peak though, del Toro has fully jumped into horror. The film is basically a haunted house movie, one which also deals with madness and also features some very graphic violence. What’s exciting about all of this is how much del Toro embraces the horror elements. The director has said he wanted to return to more “grand” horror films in the vein of The Exorcist and The Shining. The film is full of ghosts, monsters, a haunted mansion, blood, bugs, and full moons. It’s a horror film that clearly loves horror and at a time where most films of the genre have tended towards the minimalist, it’s refreshing to see a horror film go big.

Crimson Peak may be full of conventional horror elements, but the execution makes these things feel fresh. Guillermo del Toro is known for his great visual sensibilities and he brings that to play here. Particularly impressive are his creature designs, which are excellent. The ghosts here are covered in blood and move as if all of the bones within the body are broken. The designs are truly frightening. I also really loved the design of Thomas and Lucile’s mansion. You can see where it used to be very beautiful before it started to fall apart. Not only is the place in decay, but the walls also ooze with clay (which looks like blood) and there is a giant hole in the ceiling which snow and leaves often drift through. It’s a great design and the house’s construction is very detailed. The costumes are also excellent and the cinematography is very strong.

Visually, Crimson Peak is really awesome, but that isn’t really surprising for del Toro. His films usually look great and if they do falter it’s narratively. Well, Crimson Peak’s story is pretty engaging but it does have some problems. I won’t get into spoilers, but essentially the audience is led to believe things will play out in a certain way and they end up going another. Not that the film has some crazy twist, but the focus shifts in a way I wasn’t expecting. I like the idea of the narrative shift, but I don’t think it fully works. Something about the turn feels a little disappointing. The film does still find its way again and ends on a pretty intense climax. I also wasn’t crazy about the film’s supporting cast. The principle leads are all fine. Tom Hiddleston is well-cast as a charming aristocrat with suspicious intent, and Jessica Chastain really shines as his sister. But with much of the supporting cast, it’s very apparent one is watching an actor dressed up in period clothes, not a real character. Nowhere is this more apparent than Charlie Hunman’s character. I don’t get why Del Toro keeps casting this guy. I’ve heard Hunman is good in Sons of Anarchy, but his collaborations with Del Toro haven’t worked out really worked out at all.

Overall, Crimson Peak is a lot of fun and is probably a perfect film to see in October. It’s spooky and atmospheric, but it also delivers the goods one expects in a quick and entertaining fashion. I do think it could have been tighter in a few spots, and I do hope Del Toro eventually returns to telling genuinely powerful works like The Devil’s Backbone, but that isn’t really fair to bring to Crimson Peak. This isn’t meant to be a powerful drama or thematically complex work; this is escapist genre filmmaking. On that level, Crimson Peak works quite well.

B+

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