Crimson Peak - Review: Worth A Peek For The Patient

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Crimson Peak - Review: Worth A Peek For The Patient

I love Pacific Rim. I know many people that hate it, and even I was a little unsure at the cinema, but it has grown be one of my favourite films of recent years, and my DVD copy of it rarely leaves my coffee table. When I think about why that’s the case, it isn’t for the big robots punching monsters in the face (which is cool) or Idris Elba cancelling the apocalypse (which also damn cool). Ultimately, I think the reason I want to keep watching it again is the way Del Toro’s own love for classic Godzilla/Monster Island films comes across on screen. Seeing a director make something purely because they’re passionate about it can be really special, even if not everyone feels the same way. Two years later Del Toro has taken that same approach with his long back burning project (first written in 2006), Crimson Peak. It looks set to be just as audience devise than the aforementioned Jaeger/Kaiju smash up but as before it’s biggest on screen strength is its director’s love for classical haunted house horror which produces some stunning results.

When the aspiring young writer and wealthy heiress, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska – Alice in Wonderland, Stoker), meets the dashing British baronet, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston – Thor, Only Lovers Left Alive), she quickly falls for him. Yet when she moves to his deteriorating family mansion in England, accompanied by his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian), things take a more sinister and supernatural turn. Ghosts are real, of this much we’re sure.

Now this crimson affair does take a little while to reach its peak. Things move very slowly in what feels like an overstretched and drawn out opening section in America with the sole intent of bringing the main trio of characters together before voyaging across the pond. While the intent of establishment is clear, too much of it feels inconsequential and lacking in interest. It’s like a period drama filming is trying to force its way on screen. Thankfully, unlike a Transformers sequel, things do change and improve drastically. From the moment we arrive into the grandeur, the titular location it’s a different film entirely. The artistic visuals and set designs are so drop dead gorgeous you’ll think the ghost cast members topped themselves just to get inside. From the simple beauty of a snow falling throw decaying holes in the ceiling to the surrounding red clay deposits staining the snow exteriors, Crimson Peak delivers ever spinning balance of tranquil beauty grotesque creepiness. The dark red clay deposits ooze through the floorboards and drip down the walls in thick globs like Tarantino used it for a shoot out last week. The creature workshop attributes showcased in Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy series have been applied the visual effects rendering of the many encountered ghosts in superb style. Each one feels wonderfully unique and echoing of its life and death trauma, the best being a lady with her mangled baby screaming in her arms. It feels like a lot of effort has gone into giving the gruesome apparitions character rather just making them look scary.

Those looking for an outright horror would do well to beware of Crimson Peak because this film is actively not trying to scare you but thrill you with its creepiness. The general tone is very slow and steady, accented by sparse shock interjections. Many of these are highly effectively as the quiet stillness is broken an unexpected bone-crunching injury/death (one “to the face” moment is really not for the squeamish) or a ghost’s wall/floor phasing entrance. In any such slow build, it’s crucial for the final act to deliver a worthwhile result, and Crimson’s crazy does make its way up to 11. The final confrontation has an eerily reminiscently feel of Sleep Hollow to it as the camera focuses tight on Edith while her crazy attacker darts about behind the scenery in the snow.

While the story oozes a certain degree of mystery and intrigue, it ultimately becomes Crimson’s red mark. Like its scarlet spectres, it just doesn’t have enough meat on its bones, especially considering the 2-hour run time. What’s more, much of it is frustratingly predictable with most plot twists and developments spelled out an act before they arrive. The subplot of Edith’s long time friend, Dr. McMichael (Charlie Hunnam – Sons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim) is largely unrewarding and in many ways, detrimental to Edith’s portrayal as a heroine. There are also points where the film feels overly theatrical, more than it intends or should.

Crimson Peak is essentially a character drama piece so it’s great news that its leads are all outstanding. Wasikowska looks picturesque in her classical getups wandering in her nightgown with candelabra in hand. She embodies the themes of innocence well, while still retaining some inner strength. Hiddleston revels as the conflicted charmer. His presence comes with just the hint of sinister to keep him under suspicion but enough heart to believe the connection between him and Wasikowska and the well-spoken aristocratic dialogue suits him like a staff & gold cape. Even more surprising is Jessica Chastain’s Lucille, delivering a sultry ice queen for the most part only to become a flayed pile of raw nerves when required. Hunnam fits the bill as the dashing would be savior but his performance feels rather ordinary in comparison to everyone and everything around him.

Crimson Peak is a gory and at times glorious modern rendition of a classic haunted house ghost story dripping in enough Gothic style to send Tim Burton dry-humping the nearest wall. It doesn’t carry universal appeal and requires at least some degree of patience to fully enjoy. It’s Del Toro’s best film a director since Pan’s Labyrinth (I still love Pacific Rim but must concede this), and a genre he needs to revisit some day. Halloween always brings a rush of poor scary and spooky films but in Crimson Peak, we have at least one treat amongst the tricks.


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