MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Gothic Romance/Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Jonathan Hyde, Emily Coutts, Doug Jones, Javier Botet, Sofia Wells/ Runtime: 119 minutes
I would just like to start this review off by saying that iconic film helmer Guillermo del Toro is one who has managed to construct his cinematic legacy on his truly incredible imagination. A fact that can be backed up by the fact that some of his prior films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, his two Hellboy films, and The Shape of Water manage to possess some truly incredible creatures and fantastical elements that manage to blend together fantasy and horror in a riveting style. Yet, perhaps more noteworthy about del Toro is how in all of those films and some of his others while there are those fantasy elements at play, it does seem like the point he is trying to make is that yes those things are creepy, but the most chilling kind of evil imaginable is still the kind that is committed by other people. Yes this is a topic that his recent masterpiece Nightmare Alley managed to cover in full, but before that del Toro managed to also touch on this with the help of some ghastly ghosts in a slice of cinema called Crimson Peak. Indeed operating as a throwback to both Hammer Horror films and the works of Poe and Henry James in equal measure, this is one terrifically acted and phenomenally made film that I promise may have gone under the radar when it first came out, but is definitely worth hunting down and watching.
The plot is as follows: Taking us back in time to Buffalo, New York in the early 1900s, Crimson Peak gets underway as we are our introduced to our main heroine, a young woman by the name of Edith Cushing. Miss Cushing, we can quickly determine, is quite the outlier amongst young women of her age and, especially, of her social status within the community. This is because our intrepid heroine is an aspiring author despite the fact that her tales of the creepy and macabre are consistently turned down by publisher after publisher due to the thought process of the time which felt that the only thing women should ever be good at writing about is stories of love and romance (clearly this was before Harry Potter). Of course, we also learn that our heroine has a very personal attachment to the things she writes about due to the fact that when she was younger she found herself being paid a visit by the apparitional form of her deceased mom who, among others, passed along a word of caution that told her to always beware of something known as Crimson Peak (hence the title of the movie). Yet even though her overprotective but well-meaning and kind dear ol’ dad Carter would love nothing more than to match his beloved little girl with her friend from childhood, a now-very successful optometrist by the name of Dr. McMichael, we see that Edith is soon charmed by a visiting and quite handsome British baronet by the name of Sir Thomas Sharpe who proceeds to steal the young woman’s heart right from under both her father and potential suitor. However when a series of mysterious events start to occur that eventually culminate in another heartwrenching tragedy hitting awfully close to home, we soon see our heroine decide to wed the mysterious Mr. Sharpe and leave with him and his equally as enigmatic sister Lucille and live with them at their family estate of Allerdale Manor which rests fairly deep in Northern England’s moors (London was tragically unavailable due to a string of vicious wolf attacks). Yet it isn’t long after her arrival that we soon see our heroine begin to suspect that something isn’t quite on the level and as she explores more and more of her new rundown mansion home complete with a mountain of red clay right under the estate that continuously oozes up through the floor like blood, we see that secrets start to come forth from the shadows that turn an already horrific situation into something so ghastly that it can only be called the stuff that nightmares are truly made of.
Now right off the bat I will be the first to acknowledge that Crimson Peak, despite what the trailer I have included at the bottom of this very review, most assuredly is not your run of the mill and one-dimensional slice of cinema that deals with a house that is haunted by all manner of ghosts and spirits so if that is what you were wanting then I guess I should say how sorry I am to disappoint you in that regard. Actually, this is one slice of cinema that is more in line with something written by Henry James than James Wan even though in all fairness there are more than a few uneasy if not downright horrific episodes which manage to pop up throughout the course of this slice of cinema’s 119-minute (including credits) narrative. Rather, I would like to argue that what film helmer Guillermo del Toro has managed to sculpt for our viewing pleasures is a top-flight tribute film to both the iconic Hammer horror films that were conjured up for audiences and to riveting and yet very moody period films from the Golden Age of movie magic. Of course with this one being made in the present day and del Toro being the film helmer that he is, it should come as no surprise to learn that his take on a gothic romance is one that is comprised of visceral images, racy chills, and a fair bit of blood being spilt before your very eyes. Take those aspects out of the equation however and honestly this is one slice of cinema that I could see Hollywood making a long time ago. Yet another key component to this slice of cinema would have to be from the visual perspective. This is because this slice of cinema is one of the most vibrantly colorful from the year 2015. Indeed everything from the costuming to the flashes of light that blaze across them manage to work immensely well especially with del Toro choosing to shoot this in a beautifully invigorating HD. Not only that, but this slice of cinema is also gorgeously shot as we see that this slice of cinema’s cinematographer decides to trade any modern aesthetics and instead grant us with imagery that flows in a fluid style so that we can see with ease just what exactly is going on at all times as well as skilled work from the visual effects team in regards to making the various ghosts of the film (when they appear) look appropriately ethereal but also gorgeous to look at and yet also heartbreaking as well. Yet perhaps the finest work done by the crew behind the camera would undoubtedly have to be in regards to the house where a lot of this slice of cinema takes place. This is because, taking obvious cues from Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction in a lot of key ways, we as movie goers are able to see that the head production designer, a man by the name of Tom Sanders, and his just as creative team have managed to conjure up one of the finest cinematic haunted homes I have ever seen right down to the fairly over the top staircase, rust-encrusted piping, creepy old elevator, a dramatic gap in the roof that lets snow and leaves litter the floor of the main entrance, and an ominous attic and basement that *surprise surprise* our main heroine is cautioned never ever to go into. Suffice it to say that this is one haunted house that, even in the face of the peril being faced by our heroine, is still elegant and quite lovely albeit in the most tragic way possible and one that I would have loved to venture into and explored myself.
Yet perhaps the other big component that really will sell you, the viewer on del Toro’s distinct vision for this film would have to be the immensely skilled cast he has assembled in helping him bring it vividly to life in front of the camera. This starts for me with Tom Hiddleston who wound up taking over the role of Thomas Sharpe following another noteworthy actor by the name of Benedict Cumberbatch having to leave the part. Now I can honestly say that while I can’t even begin to guess how Cumberbatch would have approached this part, I can by the same token say that it might not have possessed the injured core that Hiddleston marvelously brings. Indeed Hiddleston does a wonderful job at making Thomas more doting and caring than you might expect, but this also does a wonderful job of making things that are eventually revealed that much more unnerving. Suffice it to say that it truly is a top-flight performance that is wonderfully balanced on the proverbial line between fantasy and immersive emotional reality and Hiddleston walks it perfectly. I also love the work done by Mia Wasikowska in the role of our main heroine Edith. Indeed is there a degree of a Mary Sue-type to this character? Honestly maybe so, but all the same Wasikowska is able to not only give this character a life her own, but also phenomenal brilliance as well. Indeed it’s not the easiest role in the world to play since the film pretty much guarantees that for a lot of the runtime we will be ahead of Edith on most things, but Wasikowska manages to immerse herself so much into the part that we find ourselves wanting to follow every step she takes even if we know we’re going down a path she would be better off not venturing down despite adoring every moment we get seeing her go through the various bleak and mothball heavy halls with a candelabra on her person like she just emerged from the Victorian era into the present day. Now I must admit that although it is obvious by this point that del Tor has seemingly become fond of casting Charlie Hunnam I must admit that I don’t share the man’s fondness. Indeed looking back on Pacific Rim, I can honestly say one of the few problems I had with that slice of cinema was just how wooden Hunnam’s performance was, but thankfully this slice of cinema rectifies that by letting Hunnam play the typical hero in this kind of story……even if he is not exactly as useful as he may believe himself to be. Indeed because del Toro vehemently is against Edith falling prey to the typical damsel in distress archetype, this results in cutting out some of the masculine heroics of Hunnam’s Dr. McMichael along the way which ultimately is not a bad thing since in its own way it also operates as a terrific criticism of male-concentrated narratives. This then brings us to the final main performer in the quarter which is Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe and honestly I think that the less I tell you about her part in the proceedings the better off you will be, but I think I can tell you one thing for sure. That being that you most assuredly will not be able to view Chastain the same after seeing her in this. Indeed her character Lucille is one that is equal parts scorn, malevolence, homicidal insanity, and gloom all rolled into to the point that she is just as horrifying if not more so than any of the ghastly ghouls haunting our poor protagonist. Suffice it to say it is a truly amazingly well-written character and one that Chastain is clearly having a blast playing.
All in all Crimson Peak is a slice of cinema that not only is one you can almost feel all around you, but also pops off the screen with all the passion on display. Indeed this is by no means of the imagination the best slice of cinema that del Toro has ever given, but it is one that makes for a delightful union of his two distinct styles. Indeed this film is not only made by the auteur who pursues his distinct influences an then uses them to conjure up character-centric and metaphor-a’plenty dramatic efforts, but also by the film helmer who has no problem giving us weird and/or creepy creations in films that have flair and scope thus giving us a slice of cinema that is truly distinct. Indeed a throwback just as much to Hammer horror films as it is to such iconic authors as Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe, the slice of cinema that is Crimson Peak is a gorgeous and well done film that takes the work of these influences and blends them together to make a wonderful film that, more than anything else, is del Toro at his finest and most novel. On a scale of 1-5 I give Clemson Peak “2015” a solid 3.5 out of 5 and Becky gives it 3.5 out of 5 treats.