Editor’s Notes: Crimson Peak is currently out in wide theatrical release. For more on the film read Crimson Peak: Bad News for Anyone Looking for Thrills and Chills.
Crimson Peak may just be the most audacious autobiography ever put to screen. Mexican maestro Guillermo del Toro’s fabulous fantasia of the uncanny stars Mia Wasikowska as an aspiring author in Victorian-era America whose novel is mocked as a ghost story. Her response, bemused by the world’s ambivalence to the macabre, is a statement of intent from the director: “It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it.” A single line confounds the great master’s entire career to this point. From his Spanish-language debut Cronos, to the mainstream delights of Hellboy and Pacific Rim, via his 2006 masterwork Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has made a signature of finding a balance between beauty and horror. All this leads us to this wilfully old-fashioned gothic romance, which takes an archaic formula to implicitly address that strange relationship. It’s a beautiful horror film and a horrible love story. It’s also, to this writer, one of the filmmaker’s greatest works to date.
It’s a beautiful horror film and a horrible love story. It’s also, to this writer, one of the filmmaker’s greatest works to date.
Wasikowska is the beauty, Edith, a proto-feminist seduced, and later enveloped, by the dashing face of horror (a cosmically brilliant Tom Hiddleston as Sir Thomas Sharpe) and his conniving sister (Jessica Chastain; never better). He has travelled from England in search of financial support to resurrect his dying legacy with a new clay-mining contraption. Before long, the two of them have returned to the latter’s home as newly-weds, where even the creaking floorboards struggle to contain the dark secrets within. Oozing red clay, they are the first in an array of unsubtle metaphors in this veritable house of horrors. The rotting Allerdale Hall comes to consume Edith, whose nightmarish visions of residents past slowly but surely reveal past sins, along with those left to come.
del Toro is incapable of making a less-than-visually-spectacular film and Crimson Peak could be his most stunningly crafted to date. Every frame is bursting with a brilliant invention, visual wit and unbridled creativity that dozens of watches would still leave details left to be discovered. The period costumes, gorgeous set design and gut-wrenching gore effects are unparalleled in their unique interpretations of classical elements. Dan Lausten’s sumptuous, sensual cinematography deserves special mention, though. It’s a near-perfect recreation of the gothic dread once specialised by Hammer Horror (it’s no accident that Edith’s surname is Cushing, in clear reference to horror icon Peter Cushing). The fact that all this technical virtuosity stems from the imagination of one man is genuinely astounding. Frame any shot of Crimson Peak, and you have a masterpiece all to itself.
Crimson Peak is a film out of time. It smacks of an outdated theatricality none too often found in the soulless landscape of modern corporate horror.
The film staunchly rejects the recent trend of postmodernism that has plagued many lesser horror. This is a film of sincerity, del Toro is saying exactly what he means, and so are his creations. Other critics have accused the movie of a lack of substance to match the magnificently creepy style, but one feels like that is perhaps missing the point. He is paying homage to the kind of steadily paced, erotically charged and emotionally rich films of his youth in painstaking detail. He genuinely loves the genre, the characters he weaves and the bleak journey he takes them on. On those terms, the style is the substance.
Crimson Peak is a film out of time. It smacks of an outdated theatricality none too often found in the soulless landscape of modern corporate horror. The film’s woozy charms are not for everyone; some scenes of brutal violence (including cinema’s finest death-by-sink) are practically begging for walk-outs and the aforementioned stylings simply won’t work for some. For fans of classic horror and the achingly romantic, though, it is sure to cast a web of ghoulish delight that will cling to them long after the credits roll.
For fans of classic horror and the achingly romantic, though, it is sure to cast a web of ghoulish delight that will cling to them long after the credits roll.