Film review: CRIMSON PEAK, from ‘Built For Speed’
Guillermo del Toro is renowned for ornate gothic horror films in which sinewy monsters, representing the threat to the average person of political oppression and other ills, emerge from the perceived safety of the family home. His latest film Crimson Peak adopts a similar approach and delivers much of the mystery, the sense of unease and visual artistry of his classics such as Pan’s Labyrinth before losing its way toward the end.
Set in New York in 1901, Crimson Peak centres on the emotionally and literally haunted Edith (Mia Wasikowska) who, as a child, was visited by a sinister spectre that whispered to her a mysterious prophecy about a place called Crimson Peak. Despite this terrifying childhood experience – which would have left most people in a straightjacket – Edith grows into an astute and determined woman who aspires to become a writer. She also begins to take an interest in some of the local suitors and when the suave Lord Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives in New York attempting to flog a digging machine to Edith’s money bags Father, Edith is smitten. Despite her Father’s objections she takes up with the suspicious Lord and decamps to his sprawling, dilapidated, ultra-creepy mansion in England. Here the ghostly visitations return but become more frightening and seem to indicate that all is not right with the Lord and his spooky sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) with whom they share the house.
This film owes a clear debt to 19th Century literature. It begins like a Jane Austen romance with the dashing Lord seducing the impressionable Edith before it transforms into a House of Usher style gothic horror story of crumbling mansions and decaying minds. Like those classic novels, the film achieves a feverish melodrama which, combined with del Toro’s wonderfully gaudy and elaborate production design, makes for a strange dream-like experience. Crimson Peak also recalls the classic Hammer horror films of the 1960’s with their 19th Century settings, period costumes, vivid colours and slow pacing.
Being a del Toro film Crimson Peak is of course a stunning sensory experience. The ghostly visitations are genuinely nerve wracking and his depiction of the mansion with its creaking floors, long, threatening corridors, snow falling through its collapsing roof and its basement that no one must enter is as impressive as anything in his previous films.
Story coherence has often played second fiddle to visual fireworks in del Toro’s films and it’s the same here as his attempts to resolve the various mysteries see the artifice of the film fall apart. Disappointingly, he resorts to clichés such as violent showdowns between the characters. These aren’t helped by some uncharacteristically dodgy special effects in the film’s final moments.
Mia Wasikowska, who is building a remarkable resume, once again impresses as the innocent but feisty and resourceful Edith. Tom Hiddleston who was the best thing about the Thor films, superbly depicts an outwardly confident man twisted by an internal struggle. A barely recognisable dark-haired Jessica Chastain will freeze audience members’ blood as the sinister Lucille. In an unusual piece of casting, Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam appears as the young doctor suspicious of the silver-tongued British blow-in.
Crimson Peak won’t enter the canon of del Toro classics but in its first two thirds it’s as impressive as his best work.
Nick’s rating: ***.
Genre: Horror/ drama.
Director(s): Guillermo del Toro.
Release date: 15th October 2015.
Running time: 119 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show