Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones | Screenplay By: Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins | Director: Guillermo Del Toro
When the name Guillermo Del Toro is uttered by anyone, typically the first thing that comes to mind is fantastical production design and bombastic storytelling with a supernatural element. Visually, Crimson Peak is everything cinephiles expect from a GDT feature: sweeping landscapes, gorgeous visuals, impeccable set design and photography, and a penchant for the grotesque. Unfortunately for all, Del Toro remains ineffective in following through with a storyline as dynamic and layered as his cinematic acumen.
To put it in automotive terms, Crimson Peak is like a pristine, meticulously detailed 1957 Chevrolet convertible with a matte black finish, brilliant chrome plating and a fuel-injected 283 block purring like a kitten. Once inside, passengers are seated in plush leather bench seats dyed in the deepest of reds, and the interior smells strangely of sage and mahogany. All of that doesn’t matter in the end because this dream car is flashing ‘E’, the clutch is a finicky as hell and the driver may or may not be a bit buzzed behind the wheel.
The film begins with legitimate promise: Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a bookish young girl who strives to become an author of gothic romance. Her father (Jim Beaver) a man of resolve and blue collar disposition, only wants the best for Edith by providing her security in the form of a husband. Enter Thomas and Lucille Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain), visitors from England seeking a contraption that could greatly increase mining operations on the Sharpe property.
Despite the good natured advances of her childhood friend (Charlie Hunnam), Edith falls for sly Thomas. Her father has misgivings for the man who charmed her daughter from her abeyance; Thomas clearly exhibits an ominous streak. Naturally, his cryptic nature lures Edith out of her shell and she absconds to England to become his bride. Because British accent, that’s why.
All is arranged in an orderly manner, cloaked in a threadbare plot with tropes that are tiresome and mundane. At its crux, Crimson Peak is nearly as transparent as the ghosts that haunt Edith. One would hope it’s merely a veil that will eventually unfold into a bizarre and otherworldly maelstrom that is profound in design. Alas it isn’t the case. Crimson Peak is a potboiler, frothing and bubbling at a gentle simmer yet lacking that explosive element. Nearly everything you suspect mere moments after a character is introduced occurs and deflates any potential tension as the film saunters to its conclusion.
As expected, Allerdale Hall is a wondrous set design that is stylish and hauntingly beautiful, a signature in every Del Toro feature. The haunted mansion is every much a character in Crimson Peak as Thomas and Edith. Its creaks and groans signal a life in anguish while its tenets skulk through Allerdale’s hallways and nooks. Edith’s new homestead equally plays curse and inspiration to her inquisitiveness. There are some taut moments during her discovery on the origins of her ghosts; Edith’s distress culminates in manifestations that are irregular and near-comical in their CG form when contrasted to the darkly garish yet practical setting.
The one saving grace is the manic Lucille, played by the perpetually fervent Jessica Chastain. Lucille is very protective of her brother Thomas and their holdings, and makes Edith well aware of her thoughts and intentions from the moment she arrives in Cumbria. Chastain makes the best out of her shallow character by exuding a smoldering intensity. Her heavy-handedness with the material, however, becomes exceedingly incongruous with the rest of the gothic flick.
After months of anticipation and hope from all of fandom that Del Toro has found his stride once more, our favorite ‘idea man’ offers a fantastic premise with exceptional imagery. While it’s not an outright horror film as Guillermo has stated numerous times, the merging of themes – romantic thriller and gothic horror – is a promising yet strangely cumbersome amalgamation. Crimson Peak may be unlike what was expected, yet for all its faults, it’s a competent film rife with spookiness yet found in want. Much like the dilapidating structure of the Sharpe’s manor itself.
Visually, Crimson Peak is everything cinephiles expect from a GDT feature: sweeping landscapes, gorgeous visuals, impeccable set design and photography, and a penchant for the grotesque. Unfortunate for all, Del Toro remains ineffective in following through with a storyline as dynamic and layered as his cinematic acumen.