Was Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak The Gorgeous, Gothic Horror Story We Were Promised?

Credit: Universal Pictures
Credit: Universal Pictures

For the past year we have all be warned, Beware of Crimson Peak.

What we should beware of is the human capacity to do the unthinkable seemingly in the name of love.

Crimson Peak is the latest from iconic director Guillermo del Toro who is most renowned for his work in horror films such as Pan’s Labrynth and Cronos. Crimson Peak however  is not a classic genre horror film. There are some creepy things, however, a few jumps, and a couple of things that made me gag a little.

This is a little tale of love and mysteries and secrets. And ghosts. Real and metaphorical.

Crimson Peak opens with a haunting lullaby, a precursor to the darkly gothic rich feel of the movie.

We get a small prologue then we pick up the story in Buffalo New York and meet Miss Edith Cushing, Mia Wasikowska, an aspiring writer who sees herself more Mary Shelley than Jane Austen. Edith is most definitely a woman before her time and feels unconstrained by the social conventions of the time. She can clearly hold her own in a man’s world.

Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe played so elegantly by Tom Hiddleston. Sharpe is a man struggling to move forward both from his families past and his own duty while wrestling with his ambition to be a part of the age of the Industrial Revolution. He is a man clearly torn.

Edith’s father, Carter Cushing (the most amazingly excellent Jim Beaver) is a man who can help Sharpe, but Cushing is quick and intuitive and knows something seems amiss with the landed gentry from England. Not just Sir Thomas but his sister Lady Lucille, with whom he shares a bond bred from their isolated childhood. Carter is also immensely proud and supportive of his daughter and her ambition.

The clever and cunning Sharpe’s eventually take Edith with them back to Allerdale Hall in Cumbria, North West England. A barren and isolated manor house crumbling away on the moors. The house has an air of rich darkness and of things in the many shadows.

As Edith struggles to determine her place there are many unsettling incidents within the walls of Allerdale. The movie, which does have a slightly slower pace than I expected, creates mystery in layers.

We know things are certainly not right but we’re never really sure what is going on.  Who are the ghosts haunting Crimson Peak?  Are they there to scare or are they there to warn?

Edith begins to unravel the intertwined mysteries, as does Charlie Hunnam’s Alan McMichael all the way back in Boston, and it is soon apparent that evil is afoot. I loved that just when you think you know how bad it is, it gets a little worse.

Crimson Peak is about what people are willing to do for love both good and evil.  It is a tale of what monsters truly are and what madness love can lead us in to.

As you would expect from del Toro, Crimson Peak is a beautifully shot and layered visual experience and it will require more then one viewing to break down and decipher all the little nuances he has in his backgrounds – nothing in a del Toro film is put there by chance. It is all crafted to create and support the storyline and messages.  The costuming is incredible and the slow stripping-down of the characters to reveal their frailties is reflected in the wardrobe as the film goes along.

Performance wise, the film really belongs to Jessica Chastain and her coldly twisted Lady Lucille Sharpe.  Tom Hiddleston is clearly a man torn, however, he is a bit too clipped in his speech in this performance.

I found it hard to believe in the sincerity of Mia’s Edith, but I think that has more to do with the screenplay than her performance.  There are parts where the audience has to make the leap of faith in the emotions, as they simmer along and then leap to the next phase, particularly in the beginning of the movie.

While fans of the directors work who may have been expecting his usual terror filled scenarios might disappointed in the lack of anything but mild scares, Crimson Peak is a story of love and redemption against the background of the old-style gothic novels.

It is a beautiful work of art in terms of the cinematography.

Crimson Peak is currently screening in Australia and the UK and opens tomorrow in the USA.

Jacie Anderson
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