‘Crimson Peak’ movie review
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
Pastiche and homage can be great fun, but let’s be honest: everything Guillermo Del Toro’s ever done is an adaptation or a throwback. Pacific Rim is basically Neon Genesis Evangelion with a side of Godzilla. Pan’s Labyrinth is, well, Labyrinth, and David Bowie wants his movie back. Even the venerable Hellboy is adapted from the comic series, though it’s to the film’s credit. Enter Crimson Peak, Del Toro’s latest return to form. I’ll tentatively say this old-fashioned ghost story has enough personality to stand apart from the typical Halloween fare.
Between the detailed and lifelike set design, old-school wipe transitions, visceral practical effects, and magnificently atmospheric cinematography, Crimson Peak is easily the most visually exciting horror film I’ve seen in ages. However, in cribbing all of its story and visual cues from gothic horror and suspense greats like Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock, the film struggles to stay one step ahead of the audience.
The first act is very Jane Austen, which is English for slow. American author and heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) conspires to marry Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston), a broke-yet-charming English baron who’s been begging for funding from her wealthy father (Jim Beaver). There’s some baroque family melodrama and a little murder, which could all have been accomplished in half the time. However, these scenes do serve to create an effective visual and thematic parallel with the rest of the film and Sharp’s home, Allerdale Hall.
Allerdale Hall is very much alive. It’s not an entity, though it is home to many. It is a character, and its dialogue is the creaks and groans of the foundations. As the mansion sinks into the red clay deposits that Sharpe mines, the floorboards ooze red while leaves, snow, and black moths flit through the rotten walls. It’s a real triumph of set design and makes for an entirely unreal yet believable setting.
Sharp’s twisted sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is easily the best-played role in the film, and the scariest thing on screen for the duration. The ghosts I can take or leave, but her baleful glances and stilted monologues feel like something out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. As the reasons for her behavior become clear, the depth of her depravity is revealed, and Chastain plays the role with fervor. The film would be much less entertaining without her.
Unfortunately, these uber-gothic sets and performances are not enough to make the film. If you’ve ever seen Notorious or Gaslight, you’ll guess most of the twists. Modern horror fans will likely have trouble thinking of Crimson Peak as anything other than the more colourful art-house twin to The Woman in Black, which I must admit is the more frightening and suspenseful film.
I’m only critical of Del Toro because I love his films. The power of his imagery carries his borrowed ideas further than they could otherwise get by themselves, but Crimson Peak is the most structurally flawed of his most recent works.
Still, there is enough macabre romance and spooky atmosphere to make for a good Halloween date movie. Now show Del Toro some love so we can get a Hellboy 3.