There is not one moment during Guillermo del Toro’s sumptuous gothic ghost story Crimson Peak, when we are not fully aware that we are witnessing the work of a master of the craft. Everything, from the stunning set designs to the opulent costumes to the phenomenal, first rate cast speak volumes about del Toro’s ability to weave the intricate worlds of his own imagining into cinematic reality; a reality that is designed to ensnare, enchant and horrify an audience with equal measure.
This time, we are swept into the world of independent minded, aspiring author Edith Cushing, a young woman living in the late 19th century who tells us in the first moments of the film that “Ghosts are real, that much I know. I’ve seen them all my life… ” We’re then treated to the chilling scene of the child Edith being visited in the dead of night by her mother’s terrifying spectre, an apparition draped in black who delivers a eerie warning “Beware of Crimson Peak”.
The scene is spine-tingling and sets the tone for the film beautifully, unfortunately it’s quite a while before we’re treated to another ghostly visit, and when they do show up, not all of the spooks are as unnerving as that first glimpse into the spirit world. In fact, if I had to be 100% honest, some of the ghosts in Crimson Peak are not so much frightening as they are cartoonish.
Still, del Toro has a masterful hand when it comes to building tension and as the movie unfolds from one exquisitely designed scene to another, the lavish sets and haunting imagery make it easy to overlook a silly looking ghost or two…at first at least.
Ghosts aside, Edith soon finds love with dashing baronet Thomas Sharpe (mmmmm Tom Hiddleston), a titled but impoverished brit who is visiting America in search of financial backers for his clay harvesting scheme. Edith falls fast and hard for Thomas’ charms, and after a series of unfortunate events that lead to her inheriting a vast fortune, Edith and Thomas are wed and relocate to the majestic but crumbling Allerdale Hall in Cumbria, England. Allerdale Hall is where the movie truly begins and the stunning structure is a character in itself, a magnificent but decaying treasure trove filled with strange and wondrous sights.
Make no mistake, visually speaking, Crimson Peak is a masterwork; a lush feast for the eyes that is at times both gorgeous and grotesque, not to mention impossible to look away from. Even the cast, led by Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston, are all strikingly beautiful, as well as being some of the finest young actors working today. Add that to the visionary director’s ability to create new and exciting worlds, and Peak should have been one of the grandest and greatest movies of the decade.
It doesn’t quite make it though.
As it stands, the movie suffers greatly from a predictable and blatantly unoriginal script, which any seasoned horror fan will have easily figured out before one drop of blood is ever shed. Heck, anyone who’s really paying attention will easily see where the film is leading, and unfortunately it’s not anywhere we haven’t been before.
Maybe I’ve become jaded because of the sheer volume of horror films I watch, but I was so genuinely hoping that Crimson Peak would live up to the hype and deliver a film that would defy convention and leave an audience in awe. Unfortunately once the “big reveal” rolls around, it’s not so much awe we feel so much as a crushing disappointment that Crimson Peak has led us to the same ol’ territory that at least a dozen films have led us to before.
That being said, Crimson Peak is still such a gorgeously constructed film that despite its flaws, I can’t help but wholeheartedly recommend it, because chances are, you won’t see a better looking film this year, and that’s not just a reference to the magically delicious Tom Hiddleston.
Also, as far as performances go, Hiddleston and Wasikowska are absolutely phenomenal in their roles BUT the real standout is Jessica Chastain, whose performance as the cold and calculating Lucille is so pitch perfect, you can practically see the rage bubbling below her flawlessly restrained surface and when that rage is finally unleashed (as you knew it would be), it’s absolutely delicious to behold.
There’s a lot to love in Crimson Peak, so much in fact, that despite the predictable storyline the movie has so many strengths that it still manages to be immensely entertaining. How entertaining? So much so, that the lapse of originality can almost, almost, be forgiven…aaallllmmoooosssttttt.
In spite of everything, I personally can’t wait to re-watch it, not because I’m hoping for any surprises the second time around, but only to once again become immersed in the perfectly crafted visual splendor of Guillermo del Toro’s boundless imagination come alive.
Crimson Peak is now playing in theatres everywhere…Do let me know what you thought of this flick horror fans, and as always if you enjoy A Girl’s Guide to Horror, be a peach and click that Like button 😉