Haunting Visuals Reign Over Crimson Peak
As of late, Halloween at the movie theaters has been locked down to two major categories. Namely gratuitous slasher films, pushing the envelope of a cinematic slaughterhouse. The other option, repetitive found footage films, desperately wired together by a series of jump scares. This year with the release of Crimson Peak is slightly different, rewinding the clocks back with a more traditional sense.
Whether putting his stamp of approval as a producer in Mama or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark or assuming the reins of director in The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s name is synonymous with his signature flair for dark fantasy. Crimson Peak is the latest example of that.
Set in turn-of-the-century Buffalo, young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, Only Lovers Left Alive) is an aspiring writer who takes a strong interest in ghost stories rather than romantic novels her editor rather prefers. The interest stems from a visit for mother’s ghost who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Held down by her unique passion, Edith goes nowhere in this male-dominated society, particularly with her overprotective business-driven father.
As fate would have it, a young British aristrocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, Thor: The Dark World) enters the scene, not only hoping to strike a business deal with Edith’s father, but also woo the young writer off her feet. After a frustrating slow burn at first, Sharpe is successful in getting the funding for his company in Britain and marrying young Edith.
Crimson Peak drags its feet for its first 30 minutes, leaving audiences wondering when is the budding gothic romance going to take a turn for the macabre we expect from del Toro. Sharpe and his wife arrive at his estate, Allerdale Hall, a dilapated ruin of property that’s overrun by his red clay mine business. A mix of beauty and sadness, the locale screams the perfect setting for a gothic haunted house tale.
Sharpe and Edith aren’t the only ones living at Allerdale Hall. Also there is Sharpe’s stone cold sister Lady Lucille (another chameleon-like performance by Jessica Chastain), who clearly knows much more about her home than she’s letting on. There’s something much sinister afoot and unusual things start to happen. Edith is once again visited by a ghost who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” At first, Edith fails to heed the warning, wandering around the decaying corridors playing detective.
Edith’s investigation offers much insight into the history of Allerdale, which is the personification of a beautiful nightmare. The deeper we venture into the estate, the more the production design shines. Del Toro is well in tune with offering up a visual spectacle as usual, even if the narrative isn’t as equally impressive. Though, as secrets are peeled back one at a time, it becomes more evident that trudging through the first act is worth the endurance test.
Del Toro has a tendency to overload his films with ghosts and monsters. With Crimson Peak, it’s another opportunity to express his one-of-a-kind vision. The execution doesn’t always manage to hit a home run. The practical effects are undoubtedly stellar, though the overuse of his CGI gothic menagerie of creatures bogs down the necessary unnerving fear factor. The frustrasting part about it is Del Toro is well-aware of how a creepy practical creature can greatly alter a film for the better. Look no further than his child-eating Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Crimson Peak certainly is built on a sturdy foundation, not only from its array of visuals and production design, but its main trio as well. Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain are all solid here and the trifecta of chemistry is electric to say the least. Wasikowska, though used to this sort of atmosphere, doesn’t have room to change over the course of the film. The plus to that is, she doesn’t automatically assume the role of a damsel-in-distress or distressing damsel when matters take a turn for the worse. Hiddleston is subdued for the most part, an intriguing departure from his most notable role as Loki in both Thor movies and The Avengers. Chastain, however, has a field day, always bringing something new to every role she’s in.
Crimson Peak isn’t quite one of Guillermo del Toro’s best directorial outings in his superbly niche career. Still that doesn’t halt a visually spooky feast before our very eyes. It’s only takes a while to get to the goods.