Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
UK CINEMA RELEASE: 16th OCTOBER FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES
As a girl Edith Cushing experiences a terrifying encounter with the spectre of her deceased mother, which urges her to ‘Beware Crimson Peak’.
Later, Edith (Mia Wasikowska) has become an aspiring writer in late 19th Century New York. One day her father, Carter (Jim Beaver) a wealthy businessman, has a meeting with a dashing young Baronet. Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) needs investment to create a machine that will restore the clay mine beneath his stately home in Cumbria, Allerton Hall.
Carter takes an instant dislike to him, however, romance blossoms between Edith and Thomas, much to the chagrin of her father and Dr Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), a fellow suitor of Edith. One morning Carter is brutally slain, a tragedy which drives Edith into Thomas’ arms. Soon the pair are married and return with Thomas’ sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to the Sharpes’ family home, a spectacular but rundown mansion atop a hill of red clay.
A crimson peak.
Shortly after moving in, Edith suspects that the Hall is home to spirits. But are they trying to harm her… or warn her?
Guillermo del Toro has always had an eye for dark but beautiful visuals. Crimson Peak may be his most sumptuous film yet.
From the set design, to the beautiful motifs of red and yellow, to the dreamlike snowstorm climax, it’s breathtaking. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen seeps each frame in atmosphere, production designer Thomas E. Sanders and art director Brandt Gordon pack every scene with detail, while Kate Hawley’s costumes are equally fantastic.
But gorgeous visuals aren’t enough — plot is vital to creating a captivating movie.
It’s here I need to point out that, despite what the marketing seems to claim, Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. It is a Gothic-romance with horror elements. The plot isn’t particularly complex, nor are there any game-changing twists. But this doesn’t matter because it is a story about characters, notably our core trio.
First we have Wasikowska’s Edith, the heroine. She’s independent and views men as condescending obstacles to success. This makes her relationship with Thomas more compelling as we see her beliefs turned on their head. Wasikowska is excellent, keeping Edith soft enough that you sympathise with her through her ordeals, while still imbuing her with enough steel that she never comes across as a simpering damsel in distress.
Hiddleston’s Thomas is also fantastic. Sharpe is a mysterious anti-hero whose motives can never be trusted. After the role of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it isn’t much of a stretch for Hiddleston to play a charming, erudite and villainous aristocrat, but he does it so well.
Oscar nominee Chastain has been winning plaudits for her performance. Her brittle Lucille is a character that isn’t given much to do until late on, but draws you in anyway. Alternating between icy glares, hateful smirks and anguished longing, she captures the essence of a character who could only exist in Gothic fiction. In a film packed with tormented spectres, it is Chastain that creates the biggest chills.
Which brings us to the spooks. Despite what I’ve said about the film not being a horror movie, it still has plenty of horrifying moments. There is some shocking violence, but it is the terrifying ghosts that stand out. Still bearing the wounds that sent them into the afterlife, they are decomposing, desperate lost souls. In a film that rarely falls back on jump-scares, these entities are enough to cause sufficient jolts.
However, there is a fair amount of CG used, and it’s not always a hit. The ghosts reminded me of the titular phantom in the del Toro-produced Mama. The effects are fantastic in shadow or at a distance, but suffer in close-up, especially when animating facial features.
Despite this, Crimson Peak is one of my frontrunners for film of the year. It looks amazing, has a superb cast and totally encapsulates the feel of Gothic fiction, one of the strongest influences on our beloved genre. Guillermo del Toro has done it again — this movie is magnificent.