Release Date: October 16th 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Country of Origin: United States
Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
Crimson Peak was by far my most anticipated horror movie of 2015. As October 16th approached and my impatience reached fever pitch, I waited with baited breath, checking the cinema website every few days (hours…okay minutes) to see if I could finally book my ticket. And it wasn’t just because I wanted to see Tom Hiddleston’s bum. I have loved Del Toro’s work ever since, at the tender age of sixteen, I sat down to watch Pan’s Labyrinth and swiftly made the horrifying realisation that it was not a children’s film, as my mother had previously thought. The deliciously dark atmosphere, the mingling of the real and the fantastical, the strange and beautiful creatures that populate a world barely hidden behind the veil; these are the things I love about Del Toro. And the trailer for Crimson Peak, with its gothic opulence, colourfully twisted ghosts, and creepily sexual undertones, promised not to disappoint.
Yet, in many ways, disappoint it did. Perhaps my expectations were too high, perhaps the film had been marketed incorrectly, but it certainly wasn’t the film I had envisioned it to be and wasn’t really the one I wanted to see. With that aside, I’ll start with the plot and what I liked about it before I become too damning and potentially unlikeable (no one likes a critic, after all).
Crimson Peak follows the story of a hopeful writer named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who has just completed her first gothic horror novel. As a young girl, Edith is convinced that she was able to see ghosts and has since become fascinated by them. Meanwhile, a sexy young baronette named Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has left his home in England and arrived in America to drum up funding for some fantastical steampunk-esque machine he’s been working on.
He’s come with his clearly evil sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), whose main function is to play the piano and give people that “bitch-I-will-cut-you” look every now and then. Unsurprisingly Edith and Thomas hit it off immediately, get married, and proceed to return to his creepy mansion in England, named Allerdale Hall. Edith shows absolutely no concern for the fact that the house clearly doesn’t have a roof and that there’s horrifying red clay seeping down the walls. Yet all is rather unsurprisingly not what it seems in Allerdale Hall, as Edith begins seeing ghosts once again and starts to piece together the horrible truth behind the Sharpe family name.
The cinematography throughout the film is absolutely stunning and many of the scenes are beautifully well-realised, with the costumes, backdrop, and choreography coming together to form some of the most stimulating and visually nourishing shots I’ve seen in a long time. The luxurious furnishings, plush dresses, crisp white snow, and deep red…well…everything combine perfectly to form a set that screams gothic literature.
The style employed in the first half is deeply reminiscent of 1930s horror films like Frankenstein (1931), where it looks as though the shots have been filmed in a theatre rather than on a typical film set. This gives the first half of the movie a suitably oppressive feel, while paying homage to the forefathers it is trying to imitate, but I found that it jarred aesthetically with the second half, which is filmed on the grandest Hollywood set money could buy. Allerdale Hall is full of character and, with its dilapidated walls, oozing floors, and creaking pipes, has a certain ruined beauty to it. Essentially, it’s the perfect set for a gothic horror film of this calibre.
The unique and vibrant designs behind the ghosts are refreshing, as they’re not your usual “creepy child” or “eyeless woman” fare (I’m looking at you, Paranormal Activity). In spite of some dodgy CG, they are beautifully realised and insanely creepy, though some of their fear factor is lost by them getting a little too up close and personal with the camera. After all, less is more, and this is never truer than in horror flicks. The Del Toro influence is most obvious here, as several of the ghosts reminded me of their wispy counterparts in Mama and The Devil’s Backbone.
Jessica Chastain plays the role of the quietly malevolent Lady Lucille perfectly, striking that fine balance between being terrifying and still believable. Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam, who plays Edith’s childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael, boast solid performances but it was Mia Wasikowska that proved to be the real surprise as she was actually rather good. I had incredibly low expectations for her and she shattered them with her on-point performance of the delicate yet feisty Edith Cushings. Another surprise delight was Jim Beaver, an actor that I’d never heard of, who plays father Carter Cushing and provides a much-needed slice of comic relief.
Where the film fell down for me personally was the storyline. It’s unfortunately hugely predictable and several of the ‘subtle’ hints towards the mystery behind the house were as obvious as a stab to the face (you’ll get it when you see it). Not only that, the plot itself is deplorably unoriginal and left me wondering whether I had missed something crucial. Surely all that build-up couldn’t have been for nothing? Well, in many ways it was, but the build-up was deeply enjoyable, so I can’t fault it too much. In short, it’s essentially like getting onto a rollercoaster and making the nerve-racking climb up, only to reach the top and find that you’ve accidentally entered “Mr. Froggy’s Mild Ride” and not “The Pants Soiler”.
Acting: 7/10, there wasn’t a single actor whose performance I could fault, although Jessica Chastain is the real powerhouse that drives the narrative forward.
Storyline: 5/10, the storyline was deeply disappointing as it was predictable, unoriginal, the supernatural elements were largely inconsequential, and it spent far too much time building up to an unsatisfactory ending.
Fear Factor: 7/10, its chock full of far more violence, tension, and scares than you’d expect for such a low-rated film.
Overall: 6/10, perhaps my expectations were too high, but Crimson Peak barely came close to some of the stronger horror titles this year.