Crimson Peak, the latest horror feature from fan-favorite director Guillermo del Toro, shares its intentions up front when Edith Cushing, early in the first act, tells a potential publisher that her haunted manuscript is a story that happens to have ghosts. It becomes an important fact to yank out of the dialog and hold onto as Crimson Peak is very much a Gothic romance…that just happens to have ghosts — lots of ghosts, mind you, and an ample amount of gore and creepy frights. The film is in the vein of a classic Hollywood thriller, think Val Lewton, complete with similar story structure and focus on character and dialog. With the help of cinematographer Dan Laustsen and a talented crew, del Toro washes his supernatural tale of love, betrayal and murder with rich colors, deep dark shadows and lush set decoration and landscapes. The cast are near perfect with Mia Wasikowska possessing the audiences souls and Tom Hiddleston crafting the most successfully multi-dimensional and conflicted antagonist in most any horror film of this decade. Crimson Peak is far different than the ghost story its marketing promised but it is also far better than could have been imagined. It is a modern Gothic masterpiece.
The script follows the yearnings of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) as she struggles with the warnings the ghost of her long dead mother whispers to her in the night. “Beware Crimson Peak.” Edith also is an author, a new-age (for 1901) Mary Shelley, shopping her supernatural novel to publishers to no avail. Her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), a wealthy oil man, is entertaining an English Baronet named Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) looking for financial backing for his latest project. Carter thinks Sir Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) are up to nefarious intentions, taking great pains to break the budding romance between Sir Thomas and Edith. When tragedy strikes, Edith marries Sir Thomas Sharpe and heads to England to live in his dilapidated mansion, which she discovers is nick-named Crimson Peak. Edith finds the home to be filled with ghosts, horrors and secrets and falls prey to Lucille’s jealous actions. Trapped, Edith has only Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) to save her.
With Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro has crafted the ultimate ghost tale where the story is paramount while the ghosts remain integral. The ghosts themselves are not the story, but the story cannot exist without them. This is a welcomed and refreshing supernatural tale in the age of found footage phantasms and CGI modern boogeymen. Guillermo del Toro lovingly crafts his spirits into the very fabric of the frame, into every stitch of tapestry hanging on the weather worn walls, into every nightmare, every breath. Even when they are not seen, their presence is felt. He weaves in the best of Alfred Hitchcock, Val Lewton and Jacques Trouneur accenting perfectly his own visual flourishes, camera work and cinematic eye. Early on he ensures we fully understand ghosts in Crimson Peak are very real and, throughout the rest of the film, he never lets us forget their presence and influence – at least, not for long. And when he decides to show us the horrors roaming the haunted hallways, he delivers deliciously dreadful sights and sounds to cause hearts to pound and knuckles to whiten.
Every second of Crimson Peak screams Guillermo del Toro, the Guillermo del Toro that gave us The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth. His attention to detail is rampant and lush. His use of colors is the very fabric of conflict, emotion and horror. His love for the genre is evident with every sweeping pan, every sensational transition and every sudden shock and startle. The passion is all there for the audience to revel and enjoy. His film sweeps up the audience transporting them effortlessly and completely into the world of Crimson Peak. Even at the films slowest, it remains captivating, engaging the audience in every word, every turn, every secret. He masterfully utilizes the brilliant talent at his side to succeed with Crimson Peak, everything clicks: set decoration, costume design, make-up, cinematography, music and effects – all in beautiful sync.
For fans of Hammer Films, it is easy to see a lot of Peter Cushing in Tom Hiddleston’s Sir Thomas Sharpe. He seems to channel the fan favorite horror icon in his portrayal of the British aristocrat who is both the manipulator and the manipulated. Hiddleston nearly steals the entire film, charming the audience wholly as easily and completely as he does Wasikowska’s Edith. Even at his most dastardly, Hiddleston is at his most charismatic. His character is torn between his family commitments, his ambition and his love for Edith – and haunted by the secrets he hides. Hiddleston wears every wrinkle of his character in every smile, each gasp and gaze. And he is the bad guy, spoiler. But this is why the romance of the film works so well.
Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain are equally responsible for the success of the extraordinary acting in Crimson Peak. They represent the innocent and the corrupt. Wasikowska’s Edith is completely in love with Sir Thomas, following him without question back to England to his home Crimson Peak. Chastain’s Lucille is a fractured wall of glass waiting for just the right tremor to shatter…violently. The tension they bring, surrounding Sir Thomas and within the halls of Crimson Peak, is palatable. It births the threads and pathways for the ghosts to roam and reach out to grab Edith’s attention. Wasikowska provides Edith with a unquestionable strength even at her weakest while Chastain never forgets to keep a fragile air swirling around Lucille even at her most vile. Each has their own engaging story to tell, together they breath life into Crimson Peak.
Crimson Peak is everything horror fans did not realize they wanted in a ghost story. Instead of relying on tire tropes and shake cam jump scares, director Guillermo del Toro colors his ghosts with atmosphere and ambiance not seen on screen since The Uninvited, Cat People or The Haunting. While it would be interesting to see Crimson Peak in classic black and white like its influences, it is a treat to view the vivid, lush, rich colors and cinematography from Dan Laustsen. To this, del Toro adds a terrific haunting score from Fernando Velazquez. Horror has rarely looked and sounded this good. Guillermo del Toro embellishes Crimson Peak with a majestic palette and tone, the scenery breathes and comes to life as much as the characters themselves. The story, the structure and the pacing is classic Gothic horror favored by Hollywood in the 40s and 50s or early Hammer films. Yet, Guillermo del Toro does not shy from giving horror fans what they yearn for, ghosts and gore. The film earns its “R” rating despite a lack of nudity and language and grotesque images. When he needs to, Guillermo del Toro pours on the red and violence in poetic shocking ways. Crimson Peak a modern horror film like no other and a treat on many levels of craft, visuals and score. A must see.
“Love is for the horror.” – Lucille
Crimson Peak (4.8 / 5)