Crimson Peak (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
The night of her mother’s death, young Edith was visited by her mother’s ghost and warned her of Crimson Peak. Although it did not make sense to her at the time, Edith has never forgotten the encounter. Fourteen years later, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring writer, meets a baronet from England, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who comes to America with the hopes of raising capital for his project with the help of Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), a successful businessman.
In Europe, Thomas’ mansion, Allerdale Hall, sits on top of a clay mine. It is a matter of funding and building the proper machinery so that the clay can be acquired and sold. Soon, Edith and Thomas marry and live in Allerdale Hall. However, Edith begins to suspect that the mansion is haunted.
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robins, “Crimson Peak” is a gothic-horror film that is beautifully told with strong special and visual effects to back it up. It has many similarities with classic horror films, particularly with its treatment of gore and violence. These elements are secondary. The film is about the story and the characters first and how they come to change over time. Thus, an expected criticism is its slow pacing.
The deliberate pacing fits this type of story like a glove. It forces us to wonder how the characters are going to clash upon the delivery of key revelations. During its opening minutes, there are well-placed acknowledgements that the story is not really about ghosts, that ghosts merely serve as metaphor for the past that haunts. Although the idea only becomes fully realized during the latter half of the picture, it works because the wonderful performances by the leads and supporting performers help to carry through the promise.
It can be argued that the heroine is written as a bit of a bore. I agree—to an extent—but Wasikowska puts in a lot of effort to make Edith interesting. Take away the extravagant garments, hairstyles, and accessories and the performance remains highly watchable. Wasikowska appears to have more than a dozen faces to express fear. It looks and feels so effortless, the viewer gets the impression that she just picks one from her bag of tricks when the time is right. The scenes in which Edith is required to investigate during the night stand out.
There is suspense and genuine horror as she walks through hallways and opens cabinets because, like the camera, her expressions and body language are patient and precise. Jessica Chastain, too, shines as Thomas’ older, conniving sister. Notice the way she milks every scene she is in; menace is communicated right down to her fingertips.
Some of the computer-generated imagery are a bit much. Although the monsters in the haunted mansion look creepy and dangerous when they are shown, the longer the camera lingers on them, the less impact they tend to have. Perhaps this could have been circumvented if some of the images were more tactile, less translucent-looking. The choice to make them the latter, however, is an interesting one. Perhaps we are never really supposed to believe they look real or convincing, to tie into the idea that the film is not primarily a ghost story.
“Crimson Peak,” directed by Guillermo del Toro, does not need to be thoroughly original. It is difficult to deny that it is a period piece horror that is very done well. There is intrigue in the gothic romantic story and characters, the forefront and background images are stunning, the performances exhibit range, and we care about what happens to the characters. Though others may claim the film is “an exercise of style over substance,” the imbalance is not by much.