October 16, 2015
Ever since his dark fantastical Spanish-language films "The Devil's Backbone" (2001) and "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006), we have come to expect a certain signature look and quality among the films of Mexican director Guillermo del Toro. While he has had success with mainstream Hollywood films like "Hellboy" (2004) and "Pacific Rim" (2013), we still look forward to his next Gothic-themed film, a genre which he does so well. Now, here comes "Crimson Peak."
Edith Cushing was an introverted bookish daughter from a wealthy New York family. She was swept off her feet by a charming British aristocrat Thomas Sharpe, who literally waltzed into her life. Despite her father's suspicions, Edith hied off to marry Thomas and live with him (and his mysterious sister Lucille) in their cold rundown estate located on a remote field of red clay. There, Edith was continually tormented by ghoulish phantoms drenched in blood.
The pale, delicately unorthodox beauty of Mia Wasikowska has made her a favorite choice for the classic title roles, like "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), "Jane Eyre" (2011) and "Madame Bovary" (2014). Here in "Crimson Peak", she was the perfect choice to play the young heroine Edith Cushing. She projects herself as weak and wan on the outside, while she was actually feisty and fiery on the inside.
Tom Hiddleston has that roguish look that gives the immediate initial impression that he is up to no good. His Thomas Sharpe will be suspect from the first time you see him. Fresh from her recent success as an astronaut in "The Martial," Jessica Chastain displays her versatility here with a dark maudlin character unlike any role she has played before. Her Lucille Sharpe was one big question mark from her first piano solo to her last. Charlie Hunnam plays a rather nondescript role here as Edith's doctor friend. Jim Beaver registers a strong presence as Edith's protective father.
The way Guillermo del Toro wrote and tells the story as director was really fascinating in the first half during the build-up of the case. However, once they were already at the Sharpe estate, you kind of get the drift how the rest of the story will be going by then, with just a few mild surprises revealed at the end.
However, the main draw of the film is not really the story, it is the spectacular visuals and visual effects. There is simply that unique way Del Toro designs his ghosts and creatures that really make them extra-creepy and memorable. This film is a winner in terms of its resplendent cinematography care of Dan Lausten. The beautifully photographed scenes of Edith in the house or in the fields were reminiscent of classic Gothic films like "Rebecca" or sweeping romances like "Wuthering Heights".
The whole mansion and grounds of the Sharpes is likewise a monster of its own, with its damaged roof that lets leaves and snow into the house, sinking floor boards, creaky pipes, stairs and elevator, and black fat moths that fly all around it. The red clay soil upon which the house stands is likewise very much a character on its own.
The use of the color red is simply incomparable here as it is practically in every scene, on the floor, on the walls, in the water, on the ghosts, in the basement vats, on the snow. The bloody violence here was unflinching as well, contributing to the scarlet obsession in the film's palette, as well as its R-16 rating.
The film has an oft-repeated line that goes "This is not a ghost story, but a story which just happened to have ghosts" referring to the manuscript Edith was writing. That line could also be applied to the film itself. The basic story could stand even without the ghosts, albeit less interesting. With his ghosts though, del Toro added a further dimension of visual flash and terror, creating a unique masterpiece all his own. Del Toro can make gory gorgeous. 8/10.