Directed by: Guillermo del Toro || Produced by: Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull
Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins || Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones
Music by: Fernando Velazquez || Cinematography by: Dan Lausten || Edited by: Bernat Vilaplana || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 119 minutes
While Guillermo del Toro may not be the critical darling he once was with Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), the auteur director and lover of Gothic horror and monsters of all shapes and sizes has continued to produce a string of commercially successful and critically respectful crowd pleasers in the near decade since. This year, he follows up his kaiju-homage picture, Pacific Rim (2013), with another semi-original tribute to his other love, the aforementioned gothic horror genre.
Then again, to categorize del Toro’s latest film as a horror picture or a “scary film,” as the movie’s marketing campaign would have it, may be selling the film short. Crimson Peak, while featuring plenty of gore, spooky visuals, and its writer-director’s penchant for fantasy aura and tone, doesn’t quite work as a late Halloween scare-fest. As some more observant critics have noted, CP is a gothic romance before all else, and any creepy visuals or stomach churning set-pieces are in service to the central love story rather than attempts to genuinely horrify its audience.
When one understands this and looks past the film’s miscategorization, one can begin to appreciate CP for what it is: A fun, visually memorable nod to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and similar romantic artists of the 19th century. It’s not a horror movie in any conventional sense, and thus would best serve its prospective audience (and aide its disappointing box office) to be recognized as a romantic tragedy, not an homage to The Shining (1980) or The Exorcist (1973).
That being said, there are plenty of creepy feels and haunting visuals to feast one’s heart and eyes on, and the fact that CP has as much romantic heart as The Theory of Everything (2014) or A Beautiful Mind (2001) but the beauty and extravagance of del Toro’s masterful hand is reason for me to recommend it to both horror fans and romantics alike. It’s an admirable film with interesting characters, a satisfying, intense climax, and a believable, lived-in world.
Crimson Peak follows the daughter of a rich, American businessman, Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska, who falls in love with a disgraced British aristocrat, Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston, and moves to the latter’s titular estate along with her new sister-in-law, Lucille Sharpe, played by Jessica Chastain. Much intrigue and melodramatic backstabbing follow each party’s familial history, and soon the warnings Wasikowska receive from individuals beyond the grave (i.e. ghosts) come to fruition as she realizes the Sharpes are not at all what they seem.
As you can see, the story plays like your archetypal romantic melodrama with a few supernatural flavors thrown in here and there. There’s plenty of betrayal, murder, and seedy aristocratic history to go around, and most of this narrative melds splendidly with del Toro’s trademark gothic visual motifs and fantastical set-design.
The biggest elements of the movie I felt were lacking were Chastain’s backstory and the method of reveal of the Sharpe’s true colors. The latter revelation plays out way too slowly and is explained awkwardly, and my problem with the former is that Chastain doesn’t have a whole lot to do until everyone’s cards are laid on the table. Compare the slow, methodical, brilliant reveal of Benicio del Toro’s backstory and motivations from Sicario (2015) with Chastain’s in this movie and you’ll see what I mean. I just don’t think Chastain was used to her fullest until the final 10 minutes of the film, and that’s disappointing given the story’s potential.
In all fairness, Crimson Peak won’t knock anyone’s socks off unless they’re a true, die-hard fan of Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic technique or 19th century literature, but on the other hand it’s yet another solid effort from the Mexican auteur and champion of the macabre. It hardly reinvents the romantic wheel, but for what it’s worth it’s an original cinematic experience that champions mood over gory thrills, haunting visuals over dull exposition, and tragic storytelling over Disney-fairy tale endings. Del Toro rarely, if ever, delivers masterpieces, but he’s a reliable auteur who delivers unique, entertaining, and visually stunning projects. Crimson Peak won’t be nominated for anything this Oscar season, I can guarantee you, save for perhaps a nod for production design if it gets lucky, but I’ll also guarantee you that it’ll be far more cinematic and visually powerful than half the Best Picture nominees.
That’s really not much of a bold prediction — the same God damned thing happens every year.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Crimson Peak has an irresistible mood of romantic Gothic dread, as well as a grimy set design that only del Toro could deliver. The film is well cast, with Wasikowska and Hiddleston being the most likable and relatable standouts. Chastain and Charlie Hunnam sound a bit odd sporting non-native English and American accents, respectively, but character-wise, they’re both good wild cards.
— However… Chastain’s motivations are held too close to the story’s chest for way too long, and the slow, give-and-take reveal of the story’s twist is awkward and widely telegraphed.
—> ON THE FENCE: I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but acknowledge its appeal outside del Toro fans and Gothic horror specialists is limited. Still, for visual style and set-design, alone, I think the film is worth a watch.
? What’s with the sudden increase of incest in popular fiction? Is Game of Thrones (2011-2019) to blame?