Crimson Peak (2015)

crimsonpeak_2015_poster
Crimson Peak (2015)
  • Time: 119 min
  • Genre: Drama | Fantasy | Horror
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston

Storyline:

Edith Cushing is running away from a childhood trauma. She is now torn between her childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael, and a mysterious stranger, Sir Thomas Sharpe. She marries Thomas and comes to live with him and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe. She starts to find out that the Sharpe’s home bleeds, breathes, and remembers and that it is filled with spirits.

5 reviews

  • It’s been a while since we’ve seen a true horror Guillermo flick. Another brilliant director from Mexico, Guillermo del Toro gave us Pan’s Labyrinth, a film that showed a woman’s dark world, but full of imagination and fantasy. Some of his monsters there were just disgusting to look at, but it combined a good plot with horror and suspense, something that seems absent in the genre.

    From there, we got a second Hellboy movie (the first in wahich he also directed), along with Pacific Rim, a fusion of grown up Power Rangers and Transformers. Though these bodies of works were entertaining, if was as though he was stepping away from horror completely.

    Then came Silent Hill.

    Or what would have been the next Silent Hill game.

    Sure, the video game that would have had Guillermo del Toro working on it would have completely revitalized the game franchise. But with it scratch, it seemed that we would never be terrified again by the visionary director. So it’s a surprise to see him return and direct/write Crimson Peak.

    When she meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is infatuated by his desire to make his dream a reality, eventually turning into a romance between the two. However, Edith’s father’s intuition tells him something is wrong, and orders Thomas to leave in the morning and break his daughter’s heart. He does, but the morning of, he is brutally murdered, and with that, the secret of Thomas die with him.

    Thomas’ sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) questions Thomas why he has “chosen” Edith, making their actions only more questionable and menacing. Thomas, although hiding a secret, we root for in a way, as he is actually trying to become a successful entrepreneur and does actually have feelings for Edith. It’s Lucille’s emotionless tone and demeanor that matches the mood and tone of the house, as she holds the keys to the mystifying basement and to the history of the house

    “Ghost are real,” Edith mentions throughout the movie. Her mother, who is also dead, continuously warns her from the dead about Crimson Peak. Once she moves with Thomas after they marry, the house looks exquisitely haunted, with creaks, portraits, and a bloody (no literally, bloody) ghost, frantically frightening Edith. It isn’t just jump scares that del Toro executes, but it’s the visual details he places for the environment that is daunting to watch. The house breathes and bleeds of a past murder, and the movie soon turns into a mystery.

    The mystery, if you pay enough attention, is easy to guess, which is a bit of a letdown. But that would only be if the movie was a mystery rather that horror. Though the truth at the end is somewhat predictable, it is shocking and sickening.

    What is amazing about Crimson Peak is that it is all surprisingly believable. Similar to how Pan’s Labyrinth featuring a little girl that created an imaginary world to escape 1944’s Fascist Spain, so can we see a woman like Edith falling in love with a mysterious man.

    As she is an aspiring author, Edith uses Ghosts in her writing as a metaphor. So does del Toro here, making the film relatable, but still raising the hairs on our neck, as Crimson Peak brings us to an eerie house with a simple plot that is memorable.

  • “Ghosts are real,” begins Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, and the first image we see is that of Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing, pale as the snowy landscape that surrounds her. Her left cheek bears a slice and her left hand is outstretched and covered in blood. What has happened? What has she done?

    Del Toro is a fantasist par excellence who has infused elegance and sophistication into the horror genre without sacrificing the gore. There is a surfeit of blood that runs through Crimson Peak, and there are most certainly ghosts, but as Edith states early on in the film, this is less a ghost story than a story with ghosts in it. This is del Toro’s lavish take on the gothic romance, and he and co-screenwriter Matthew Robbins make this fairly explicit, referencing all manner of influences, both visually and narratively, from Jane Austen’s Jane Eyre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and the Hammer Horror films. (Edith’s surname is most surely a nod to Peter Cushing, who played Baron Victor Frankenstein and Professor Van Helsing in the series of films produced by Hammer Film Productions.)

    Edith is a young woman living with her industrialist father (Jim Beaver) in a well-appointed home in turn-of-the-century Buffalo, New York. Though highly eligible, she resists being pinned down by the romantic attentions of childhood friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who has turned into a handsome doctor. Edith would rather concentrate on her writings as she is intent on becoming the next Mary Shelley. Already a strange presence amongst her husband-hunting peers, Edith is also a believer in ghosts, having encountered the terrifying spectral form of her deceased mother when she was a young child. “Beware of Crimson Peak” was her mother’s warning.

    Perhaps her mother should have warned her against dashing British baronets as well. Edith crosses paths with one such aristocrat, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who mesmerises her with his flattery and acceptance of the spirit world before seeking her father’s backing for a clay harvesting machine. Her father, who worked his way up in the world, takes an instant dislike to Sharpe, deeming him a Little Lord Fauntleroy. Concerned at the growing attraction between his daughter and Sharpe, not to mention the unsettling figure of Sharpe’s older sister Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), the old man blackmails the siblings with the findings of a detective he hired and sends them on their way, satisfied to have averted disaster for Edith.

    Except he has not. After his brutally violent death, Edith swiftly becomes Sharpe’s virgin bride and soon finds herself the new mistress of Allerdale Hall, the family mansion Sharpe shares with Lady Lucille. If it was not already plane that something was amiss with the Sharpe siblings, then the sight of the crumbling residence should have set off alarm bells for the inexperienced and lovestruck Edith.

    Allerdale Hall is impressive for its decayed grandeur – leaves and snow drift down from the ruined roof, red clay from the mines upon which the house is built seep through the rotting floorboards, moths flutter through the rooms, secrets – not to mention sulphurous phantoms – lurk in the corners of the labyrinthine corridors. Crimson Peak is arguably del Toro’s most beautiful film to date, and undoubtedly the most immersive in its attention to the most minute detail. One can discover a thousand delights in every frame of this film, and del Toro and his team deserve ample applause for their superlative efforts.

    Numerous mention is made of the animal kingdom – butterflies, moths, parasites – and del Toro and costume designer Kate Hawley extend that into the exquisite outfits which reflect the characters’ natures. Edith is swathed in layers of fabric that feature more embroidery and embellishments as Edith becomes entangled in her passion for Sharpe. The white nightgown she wears as she tiptoes through mansion at night is a signifier not only of her virginal status, but also of her emotional and physical vulnerability. It may be no coincidence that the blood does not flow in earnest until sex, specifically endangered sexuality, enters the picture. Female desire has always been the axis on which many a gothic romance has balanced but, unlike most of the genre’s tales, Crimson Peak backgrounds its men in favour of its women.

    In a role that has Eva Green’s name written all over it, Lady Lucille may initially seem out of Chastain’s comfort zone. Yet anyone who saw her phenomenal performance in Salomé, in which she delivered a master class in raw carnality, or the icy ruthlessness she displayed in last year’s A Most Violent Year, would know her capacity for less wholesome parts. Chastain seethes in Crimson Peak, and her dark voluptuousness dominates the second half of the film. Again, Hawley’s costuming is on point: where Edith is cushioned, Lady Lucille is armoured, her boldly coloured gowns often possessing musculoskeletal touches. The film shares many similarities with Philip Haas’s 1995 Angels and Insects, not the least of which is the look shared by Chastain and that film’s leading lady Kristin Scott Thomas, but most of all in the sumptuous and symbolic wardrobe.

    Some, perhaps many, may find that del Toro stays too firmly within the trappings of the genre. It’s a valid point – Crimson Peak can come off as old-fashioned and stilted in places – but del Toro achieves the delicate balance of creepy and suspenseful, fashioning a twisted melodrama that haunts because the horrors are all too human.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is recommended.

    In brief: The house is stunningly bleak, but the screenplay is rather hopeless too.

    GRADE: B

    Things certainly go bump in the night in Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, a Gothic romance tale that is so derivative of many other films before it. The visual showmanship is all up there on the big screen with its glorious set decor, eerie sound editing, and period costumes. And the director creates the perfect atmospheric mood and necessary tension with his customary style and pacing. In fact, this well-crafted film is so flamboyant and melodramatic in its excesses that it almost becomes a self-parody of the genre, but in a good way.

    Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, our damsel-in-distress. After a rather long courtship in the form of a rich and handsome Mr. Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), which nearly takes up a third of the film, love brings her to the mansion named Allerdale Hall.

    The house screams “beware” in every nook and cranny, but no one listens. In fact, there are so many crimson red flags obviously unfurled between Mr. Sharpe and his dour sister, Lucille, who watches over the place and tends to look oddly at her new sister-in-law whenever she enters the room. Any rational being would immediately question Edith’s lack of common sense. Well, at least two other characters seem to think something is amok too: Edith’s loving father (Jim Beaver, giving the most nuanced performance) and Charlie Hunnan as her spurned suitor.

    Experiencing Crimson Peak is a visual treat from the very first scene and the talented Guillermo del Toro still has that unique surrealistic viewpoint that defines his film work. Once again, the sumptuous settings he creates gives his film a distinct otherworldly style that enhances its threadbare plot. His directorial strength has always been in his strong images that overwhelm the narrative. And here, we get more of the same (yellow leaves that continually cascade downward inside a foyer, larger moths that flutter and land on VIctorian wallpaper, red-soaked winterscapes that sharply contrast against ominous skies). Technically, it is a beautiful looking film.

    But the main fault, once again, lies in a barely adequate screenplay by Matthew Robbins and the director. Floors creak. Doors open. Corridors remain dark. Apparitions appear as quickly as they disappear…and there is the customary warning, “Don’t go into that dreaded basement!” The clichés pile up and the story is all rote with the main problem being that there are no real twists or surprises. Characters are never fleshed out fully and remain two-dimensional, especially Lucille who should have been written more subtly. (There are no shocking revelations in this major character from the start and I’m not sure if the script or Ms. Chastain’s odd interpretation is partially to blame.)

    Crimson Peaks slowly turns into its own Frankenstein monster, with so many other movie parts stitched together to create this modern version. At times, the film seems more of a plagiarism of other film classics rather than an true homage. The filmmakers were surely inspired to make a creepy haunted house tale and they succeeded, at least visually. But one can sit here and count the many scenes and direct links to other horror films like Rebecca, Gaslight, The Innocents, The Haunting and The Shining, that only underscore the film’s lack of originality.

    The actors try to add some depth to these sketchy characters but are not given much to do except register evil glances or horrified grimaces. They are mere props to their surroundings, no matter how ravishing it all is to behold. The scenery chews up the actors this time around, with Thomas E. Sanders’ sumptuous production design, Bernat Vilaplana’s concise editing, the fluid camerawork of Dan Laustsen, and of course, Mr. del Toro’s working overtime.

    That said, it is still lots of fun and highly entertaining as the film builds to a bloody crescendo of Grand Guignol suspense. Crimson Peak is a creepy diversion. Ultimately, just like its ghosts, there’s not much here except a lot of style and no real substance. But it is such a lovely way to die.

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  • “Ghosts are real. This I know.”

    “Crimson Peak” is visually overwhelming and ingeniously devised. Although it was a bit of a disappointment for me, it made a crushing, lasting impression on me on the other hand. Not because of the story itself or the cautious use of special effects, but the overall atmosphere and detailed decoration of this Gothic love drama. I assumed that this would be an excellent horror. And that because of the trailer. Normally I try to avoid trailers. But avoiding trailers in a theater is rather difficult. Eagerly I saw that it was about a house that comes to life. I was expecting a baroque-looking Amityville House. The house wasn’t disappointing. A Victorian, ghostly ruin full of dark corridors, murky caverns and sinister secrets. The Adams family would be jealous. But apart from some ghostly apparitions it was no more than a obscure drama in which a romance and a diabolical fraud scenario occurred.

    Del Toro succeeded in surprising me with “Splice” and especially “Mama”. After his intermezzo with “Pacific Rim”, he returns to the darker and creepier genre. “Mama” was more frightening as a paranormal horror story than this movie. There are some great horror moments that will give you the chills. The scarce ghostly presences look pretty decent and occasionally it made me think of how the creature in “Mama” was moving around. But this movie’s darkness is mainly achieved by the overall Gothic decorations. Both the sets and the costumes contributed to that. A house like a morgue. Deathlike, chilly with those blacks shades and rotting walls full of secrets, while standing on a blood-red surface.

    The characters of this Victorian era also look eerily deathlike. An appearance as if an undertaker took care of their makeup. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, the fragile daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur who wants to become a writer. Her literary work deals with ghosts. Since her childhood, she has the ability to see ghosts. Her mother, who died of cholera, visited her when she was only 10 years old and warned her for a place called “Crimson Peak”. This particular moment is subtly visualized. A chilling moment that contrasts with the other appearances. And then she meets the likable, sophisticated English landowner Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) when he knocks at her father’s door with the demand to help financing a modern clay machine. What follows is the predictable romantic development, a sudden tragedy and Edith deliberately seeking solace in the arms of Thomas. And before she knows it she’s on her way to England to move into “Allerdale Hall,” the family patrimony which is sinking into the red clay, along with her husband Thomas and his sinister sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

    “Crimson Peak” has its pros and cons. First there’s the atmospheric cinematography. There’s a huge Edgar Allan Poe feeling about it. Furthermore there are the beautiful costumes and the detailed decorations. And finally the solid acting and performances. Hiddleston, who reminded me of Coppola’s Dracula at a certain moment, and Wasikowska act impressively. But Chastain rises above everyone as the crazy sister. The whole resembles a ride in a haunted house at the fair. Through the pitch-black darkness interspersed with deep colors, where you expect heart crippling shock effects anytime. And just like this haunted house at the fancy fair, the conclusion afterwards is that it wasn’t so bad as expected. It wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t very scary either. The biggest mistake they made was having people believe “Crimson Peak” is a sort of horror. Ultimately, it’s just a sentimental costume drama with a paranormal aspect. But believe me, it’s masterfully portrayed!

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  • “It starts holding onto things… keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be.“

    I’m not really sure what director Guillermo del Toro was thinking by adding ghosts as wavering antagonists in Crimson Peak, but while del Toro’s recent work focuses more on style and less on substance, I’m surprisingly okay with that.

    The problem with Crimson Peak falls heavily on it’s marketing campaign pushed by Legendary and Universal on the brink of Halloween. Depicted as more of a fright-fest, or House on Haunted Hill, the soul of this plot relies heavily on romance not ghosts. But the romance feels rushed, and the love story borderlines forced between Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston’s characters. The relationship between the two characters felt disingenuous with little chemistry from actors who typically can ooze with lust (read: Tom Hiddleston).

    This isn’t Del Toro at his finest, and it’s definitely not the next Pan’s Labyrinth, but Crimson is tied together by breathtaking cinematography and strong performances that were unfortunately shoveled through an awkward script. I have my gripes with the two protagonists and their forced relationship, but a heavily rushed script may have contributed to this problem.

    I wish this movie was focused more on a romance gone wrong, complemented with an eerie backdrop, than a story muddled in a mansion with ghosts.

    The plot is “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.”
    Crimson is written in a very particular style with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) as a strong, dominant character in the beginning of the movie. She’s a novice writer whose most recent work deals with ghost, but, like the movie, the ghosts aren’t there to scare, but to serve as a metaphor of the past. While the movie offers a few jump-scares, these aren’t malicious spirits jumping out of the closet. In all honesty, it would have been an absolutely fine movie without the inclusion of the tormented spirits, and it would have had a greater effect.

    In an interview with Deadline, del Toro explains the difference between a haunted house movie and a Gothic romance. “In a haunted house movie like The Shining or The Haunting, the house itself is an autonomously malignant spirit. Whereas in Gothic romance, the house expresses the spiritual decay of the characters but is not sentient. If you think of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, that is very much the function of the building in a Gothic romance. It encapsulates and represents the ghosts of the past or the sins of the fathers, or secrets, but it’s not necessarily a sentient building.
    Gothic romance is not so much scary as it is creepy or atmospheric. These movies do have a couple of shocks but don’t depend on them as much as they do atmosphere. There’s a pervasive sense of menace or gloom in the air. Audiences today are more anesthetized to those charms, but I feel that film making is not about making foolproof products for a large number of people as it is making movies that are themselves. And then you hope that an audience that will find them, and cherish and love them.”

    The greatest character in Crimson is the house itself–it almost reminded me of the mansion from The Addams Family in the respect that you didn’t know what creepy crawler was behind the next corridor. Del Toro did a spectacular job at playing with a decaying color palette for Crimson Peak garnished with the blood-soaked red grounds that lay atop red clay fields.
    I’ll be curious if the Academy pays attention to the cinematography, art design and costume design in Crimson when award season comes around. It may not have much depth, but it sure is pretty to look at!

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