Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak has all the ingredients to make one fine movie. Unfortunately, there might just be too many ingredients to make it all work. You will see big creepy, creaking buildings, dark characters, creatively designed ghosts (even if they look poorly CGI’d) and all of this certainly appears to make for a good horror movie just in time for Halloween. But this movie however will not make any fright night list.
What you do get from Crimson Peak is classic del Toro with really great visuals, extravagant sets, and big grim characters. There were moments when I was truly enthralled by the crazily detailed picture painted in front of me – which is what made me want to watch the movie in the first place.
The movie gets off to a slow start but del Toro picks up the pace after the first 30 minutes – establishing some back story and introducing us to his dark and twisted leads. The story begins late in the 1800’s and we are first introduced to Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), the daughter of a wealthy businessman. She reveals that she’s always had the ability to see the supernatural when she has an early encounter with the ghost of her recently deceased mother and the old lady’s spirit pays her daughter a visit. The overbearing mother ghoul has one mysterious message to deliver to young Edith and that is to “Beware of Crimson Peak”.
Fast forward the better part of a decade and Edith is now a budding author writing ghost stories which her editor are unfortunately not interested in, preferring his young writer to focus on romance novels instead. It is here where she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet in town with his dark and chilling sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), in need of funding for a clay making machine that he has invented, hoping to turn around the financial woes of his bedraggled family estate.
Thomas has set up a meeting with a group of wealthy businessmen to invest in his machine, of whom Edith’s father (played by Jim Beaver -Supernatural’s Friggin Idgit Bobby) is the ring leader. After meeting Thomas and being immediately enraptured, he and Edith begin courting, much to the dismay of Edith’s childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), and it isn’t long before our leading lady finds herself falling head over heels for the charming baronet. And after a grisly personal tragedy befalls Edith, the pair then return to the not so jolly ol’ England as husband and wife with Thomas’s creepy and ominous sister never far behind.
It is in England when the Sharpes return to the family mansion – the dilapidated Allerdale Hall – where the story picks up the pace and Edith soon discovers that her new home is in fact the very place her mother’s ghost has been trying to warn her about all these years: Crimson Peak.
The house is built above the red clay that Thomas mines and this clay seeps through bright red when the snow covers the grounds, giving it its eerie nickname. Not only does it seep through the snow but the stuff also oozes out of the mansions floor boards with great dramatic effect. The rest of the mansion is filled with these marvelously creepy production design touches: A hole in the ceiling has snow and leaves permanently falling into entrance hall; the portrait lined Victorian staircases are all of the creaky variety, cobwebs and cracks equally infest every facade; the clay pits in the basement seem like a medieval torture chamber – all of this and more add up to create an incredible atmosphere, easily making the house the best designed and most effective character in the story.
The actors themselves do deliver solid performances though, with the ladies stealing the show a little from Hiddlestone, (the Hiddlestoners might disagree) but this could just come down to the script as he really has less to do. I found the more intense scenes that revolved around the two leading ladies and their interactions with each other to be some of the movie’s better moments.
And if you were wondering why I haven’t spoken much about the ghosts since their initial mention, that’s because Crimson Peak is not a ghost story. Hell, it’s not even a horror story. Despite how it is being marketed – and the ghastly potential offered by that incredible house – what Del Toro has instead crafted here is a very by-the-numbers, uninteresting romance/relationship thriller that just so happens to have a gothic macabre sheen to it. The ghostly angle that the film initially appears to lean so heavily on is actually completely superfluous to the movie. In fact there’s zero reason for there to be any supernatural bumps in the night at all, except to artificially puff up a heavily underwritten narrative that relies more on style than substance to keep you engaged.
Just writing about this movie I almost tricked myself into thinking that it is better than it was. It was not. For all the things del Toro got right with Crimson Peak, he still falls short of delivering an entertaining or scary movie. Now maybe my expectations were just too high for this movie but I will be surprised If the movie hasn’t already reached its (if you’ll mind the pun) peak.
I could be wrong and maybe all you goth romance lovers out there will hail this movie a success, so like with most movies I’d say it’s better to decide for yourself.
Last Updated: October 30, 2015