Everyone is always searching for some sort of idol. One who represents our dreams and ambitions in life, and how we would like to end up in our more mature state of living. For me, that person is Guillermo del Toro, the man that has directed countless amounts of beautiful, haunting, electric, and bizarre cinematic adventures–including Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim. In short, I’ve never met a del Toro film I didn’t like, though some I love more than others. And with his recent effort, Crimson Peak, Guillermo is returning to the Gothic horror genre, a world he seems most comfortable in and understands better than any other.
The film tells the story of Edith Cushing (who’s name is a tribute to cult horror icon Peter Cushing) played by Mia Wasichowska. She is an American writer, hoping to make a name for herself in the world, but only on her terms. She eventually is swept off her feet by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British inventor who is filled with charm, and many secrets. Under the watchful eye of Thomas’s sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), the Sharpes enter Edith’s life, and seem very suspicious to those that are important to her, including Dr. McMicheal (Charlie Hunnam), who also fancies Edith. Eventually, our leading lady moves into Thomas’s home, one that matches in description the place that her mother (in ghost form, performed by monster movie actor Doug Jones) warned her of as a child. From there on, Edith must discover the ghosts within the house, and those of the Sharpe’s past.
Crimson Peak is Guillermo’s brilliant tribute to the Hammer Horror films of the ’60s and ’70s. Filled to the brim with ultra violence, sex, one liners, and other delightful tips of the hat to the iconic British production company. But at the same time, like many of his films, this is another del Toro fairy tale, one that is not as scary on the surface as it seems, but more frightful as it lingers in your mind.
He is reminding us of that pinnacle point in which children shape into the adults they will soon become. Mako from Pacific, Ofelia from Pan’s, Carlos from The Devil’s Backbone, among many of del Toro’s other young protagonists, share in this sort of journey. For Edith, it is the death and warning from her mother during her youth, that leaves an imprint on her mind and soul. She becomes devoted to the world of ghosts and the layered lessons they leave us.
And ghosts of all sorts definitely leave their marks throughout the film. These are not the spirits of the fluffy, Casper variety, nor are these the over the top depictions that recent hit Insidious would like us to fear. Instead, Crimson Peak’s ghouls reside in the magical in-between, where they are both disturbing, yet enchanting. These were once majestic, regal individuals, and del Toro never lets us forget that, even in their ghostly form. The ghosts have a purpose within this story, just like the creatures in Pan’s did, but it might not be the service that you could guess from the trailers.
But what could be the scariest aspect of the entire film, even more terrifying than the ghosts themselves, is the house in which the majority of the film takes place in. Allerdale Hall is a house unlike any other, especially considering what del Toro, along with Art Director Brandt Gordon, and Set Decorators Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau were able to achieve. Every corner has a new detail to take in, a story to tell of the house’s history, and like Tom Hiddleston said in various interviews, the house indeed does have secrets, reflecting the way many of the characters do as well. And like a person, the house breathes and feels the emotions of the people within it, particularly evident in the use of the fireplace in several scenes.
In a similar vein, Costume Designer Kate Hawley deserves every award there is to be given to her, and then some. She perfectly captures the time period of our characters, while adding particular details that scream del Toro all over them. From the exaggerated neck collars, to the height of Edith’s puffy sleeved dresses increasing in relation to her fear of the house, no possibility is ignored here.
Sadly, one element of Crimson Peak seemed to be truly its only real downfall: The Editing. Scenes that should have been devoted more attention and smooth pacing, especially those that are significant to the emotional journey of said character (particularly that one scene that many a Hiddleston fangirl was excited over) was instead cut too short, and lacked the weight and power that it deserved. These sort of decisions, along with the strange abundance of random transitions, make one curious to see if a Director’s Cut exists, to save those scenes that were just short of brilliance due what could be missing on the cutting room floor.
But what saves any issues with the editing is the performances that shine throughout the film. Tom Hiddleston is utterly charming (and creepy) as Sir Thomas, but the true stand out is definitely Jessica Chastain as Lucille, who embodies all that is beautiful and creepy from the Gothic genre. She is Mrs. Danvers, Jane Eyre, and the Bride from The Haunted Mansion, all rolled up into one intimidating creature that you never, ever want to look away from. Chastain is truly having the time of her life on screen, a tour de force that should be recognized, but will ultimately be ignored come awards season for more vanilla choices.
At the end of the day, though it might not be the most perfect movie to ever exist, Crimson Peak is definitely an excellent example of its classification, sitting perfectly on the shelf beside Rebecca, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Wuthering Heights and many other dark romantic tales, adding a slightly modern jolt to an otherwise neglected genre. So do not beware of Crimson Peak, but instead, accept it for all that it offers: A fun, over the top, and “spoopy” filled, lace covered ride through del Toro’s vivid imagination, and the slightly creepy, yet not completely terrifying, romantic places it can take you.