Synopsis – In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.
My Take – At first, let me get one thing out of the way, this is not a horror film! Sure, it has his share of ghosts lurking around in a creepy mansion & has a dead creepy atmosphere build into the film, but at heart its a Gothic twisted lover story. People who are going into walk into this film thinking its ‘Loki in a horror film’ are sure to be disappointed! But does that make this visually stunning film a bad film? Of course not, instead its one of director Guillermo del Toro‘s best films. With films like Blade 2, The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy, & Pacific Rim behind him del Toro pays homage to some of the classics, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and even his own Pans Labyrinth and Mama with his use of transitions, shadows, symbolism, and sound. Usually in big budget films, the romance often feels forced or tacked on at the last second, having nothing to do with the plot. This film however is unique in its genre-blending, as the romantic scenes between Hiddleston and Wasikowska work within the context of the story. Not only do they share great chemistry but the love these two characters share is integral to the plot. It is also tastefully done; each time they embraced it felt right within the world the film creates; appropriately Gothic in nature as the romanticism within the horror framework is further explored. This may be typical fare for a traditional Gothic tale, but for the big screen I can’t think of anything that comes close. All I can think of is Stonehearst Asylum (Read the review here), a film released just a few months back and that is only because it too was based in a Gothic setting, also in rural England. But the similarities stop there. This film stands firmly on its own two feet, though I am sure there are examples of similar films that successfully blend romanticism with horror. Guillermo set out to make one of those rare Gothic-Romance stories, something that hasn’t been done well in a long time. Sure, there are some frightening moments in the film of course, but there aren’t a ton of ‘jump scares’, which is a breath of fresh air from all of the recent horror movies as of late. Instead, this is a slow burn of terror that follows a woman who falls in love with someone who is not who he appears to be. Guillermo and Matthew Robbins’s script allows enough time to set up each character with good amount of back-story, so that we may connect with them.
The story itself takes the viewer down a dark path, following the love between two people from two different worlds. Del Toro was smart with the balance of action and build up. For just a brief time did the story feel slow, but it later facets to the build up of later scenes. Set in the late 19th century, the story follows a young female author named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), , who lives with her wealthy father (Jim Beaver aka Bobby from CW‘s Supernatural), and is mostly courted by a local doctor named Alan (Charlie Hunnam). One day, a man comes into town by the name of Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and with his British accent, he charms Edith and tries to secure funding from Edith’s father for a new invention back in England. The two fall for each other and after an accident, Edith marries & moves to England with Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Once at the Sharpe estate, which is a run-down, creepy looking mansion, things take a turn for the worse. Edith begins hearing and seeing strange noises and frightening apparitions that seem to be after her, or at least trying to tell her something. All the things that go bump in the night come full force, and is executed flawlessly by Guillermo‘s eye. Sooner than later, Edith starts discovering who the Sharpes are and where they came from, which is not very pleasant to say the least. In between the scary moments, we get a look at the relationship between Thomas and Edith, which has a very ‘Romeo and Juliet‘ vibe to it, but we also get the relationship angle from Lucille’s angle as well. Lucille is an excellent character to watch through the entire film and see her past through stories that made her what she is today. Del Toro‘s camera-work has eerie similarities to Stanley Kubrick. Everything is perfectly famed and symmetrical with a ton of great tracking and slow moving shots. The pace is even on par with ‘The Shining‘ from Kubrick, which lets all hell break loose in the finale. The effects used are chilling and remind one of a Silent Hill video-game – hellish creatures that seem to speak some sort of inescapable truth. Despite the tame nature of this first act, some characters act extremely passive aggressively, creating a tense feeling that hangs over the film, which turns into a slightly more unsettling atmosphere later on. The plot follows the typical narrative of a haunted house story, with the protagonist, Edith, exploring the creaky walls and finding suspicion about this old house. Although they’re dealing with ghosts and the mansion’s dark secrets, the aesthetics wanted to hint that there is a larger threat in this place than what is evident. At first, it may seem predictable and the twist could lead to an exciting bloodbath; besides, there’s also red clay dripping all over the place, for some, it could be hypothetically pertaining for blood. But then there is a twist within the twist, which actually brought a sense of strangeness that is quite effective for this story. It would have been more powerful if everything else was naturally put together, like how the romance could have offered something much more, other than just leading Edith to this haunted house.Or how the mysteries were solved and such. But it’s all about the visuals. Again, this movie aims to pour its love to the old-fashioned horror and most of that were expressed through the aesthetics.
The interior cinematography and lighting could somehow resemble to Dario Argento‘s Suspiria. The production sets seem to belong to a classic Hammer Horror, but with richer detail. The CGI is maybe too captivating to be scary, but it fits well to its panache, anyway. Even the violence is pretty fascinating to watch. Whether you find this movie scary or not, you will always feel the cold atmosphere lurking on the walls, also the production will never stop feasting your eyes; just like most Guillermo del Toro movies do. Unfortunately the final act is a little underwhelming given the build-up; the reason being that the haunted house card is played subtly. Which is admirable for its attempt at something different, however the tale loses its heft because of this. It is also a tad predictable in this final act. But the rest of the film is so gorgeous to look at, whether it is the aforementioned Gothic styled mansion, the fluent camera-work or the extreme attention to detail regarding the period wardrobe, I can forgive the final act for feeling a little flat. This is an unusually accessible del Toro film. It’s not as bizarre as “Pan’s Labyrinth“, as violent as the “Hell Boy” movies or as bloated as “Pacific Rim” (as good as those films are). But don’t get scared. This film is very much a Guillermo del Toro movie, in themes, tone and style. Built just for this film, the house is simultaneously beautiful and frightening. And you needn’t go any further than the film’s advertising to see indications of the director’s preference for dark reddish hues. Performance wise Mia Wasikowska carries the film with watchable curiosity. Tom Hiddleston brings his own typical charms. Charlie Hunnman is exceptional. But its Jessica Chastain who steals the show, she is absolutely menacing in her role, and in the climax she is absolutely crazily good. Chastain plays the cold, unwelcoming sister to perfection and every time she is on screen she steals the scene, her face seething with bottled emotion. Without saying a word Lucille’s body language makes it obvious that she shares only disdain for her brother’s new bride, and regardless of the true love that they share, she seems intent on making Edith’s life as uncomfortable as and awkward as possible. This is how the romantic aspect of the film connects with the horror – the house is haunted, sure, but the set of events that Edith must experience emotionally are equally as horrifying as the creatures she sees. On the whole, ‘Crimson Peak‘ is a film which would fully be enjoyed by fans of Gothic love stories. I loved the film despite it flaws, but the film carries a beware tag as it might not suite an audience expecting a PG13 jump scare filled ghost story. Guillermo del Toro is a brilliant director and a fascinating man, its nice to see something so different from the regular cluster of films.
Director – Guillermo del Toro
Rated – R
Run Time – 119 minutes