Director – Guillermo del Toro
Cast – Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Famed horror director Guillermo del Toro follows up his incredible monster film Pacific Rim with a supernatural love story, Crimson Peak. Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, an aspiring author who escapes a family tragedy by marrying a charming stranger, Sir Thomas Sharpe. Swept away to the Sharpe family home, a secluded gothic mansion in the English hills, Edith is plagued with haunting visions similar to those she experienced in childhood. Using her ability to speak with the dead, she begins unraveling the mysteries hidden within the home…and the family secrets she was never to know about.
Del Toro co-writes this story with Matthew Robins in the duo’s first film together since Mimic (a favorite of mine but not one of Guillermo’s). From the get-go we are introduced to Edith’s dreams and conflicts. She lost her mother at a young age, and it is her mother’s ghostly visitations that have left her a believer in the supernatural. She uses this belief in ghosts in her writing, which thanks to the 18th century setting works against her as she is a woman and should be writing about love and not “ghost stories”. She states that the ghosts are metaphorical and therefore it isn’t a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it, and I believe that was Del Toro’s way of preparing us for his own ghost story.
There are some decent chills and a solid kill early on, but it isn’t until Edith reaches the Sharpe home atop Crimson Peak that the supernatural element takes full effect. Soon after her arrival Edith is bombarded with ghastly visions of mourning entities. At first it seems they are harassing her, but soon you get the feeling they are warning her about what Thomas and his sister Judith, safe-keeper of the family secrets, have in store for her. It is obvious the siblings are hiding something, and as their past is unraveled you learn that they have no intention of Edith living happily ever after in the Sharpe home. As the truth comes to light the supernatural element takes a back seat to a more tangible sense of horror. I found this unfortunate because the supernatural element had only teased here and there. In the end it never fully manifested into a formidable foe for Edith, which would have made for a scarier experience. That is why I mentioned that Edith’s remarks about her manuscript being “a story with ghosts in it” was a hint at what to expect here.
Del Toro’s direction is top-notch, excelling at every applicable element. His execution of the horror is fantastic, with my only gripe being that it left me wanting more. I loved the look of the ghosts and did not mind the amount of CGI used. Because the ghosts had to be translucent it was necessary to use a human in a green suit to achieve such an effect. The kills really impressed me thanks to Guillermo’s full-frontal approach to them. Despite it’s R-rating I wasn’t expecting too much from the kills, but boy was I wrong. CGI is abandoned and live-effects serve their role to ensure the few kills seen provide shock to the viewer. The ghosts and kills don’t make up for all of the horror though – the sets and atmosphere have a lot to do with it as well. The Sharpe house is incredibly creepy, yet so mesmerizing that I kept thinking to myself how awesome it would be to live there. I couldn’t believe the detail of the sets used, from the dark gloomy hallways to the crimson clay seeping from under the snow. Then, of course, there are the acting performances. The cast is an all-star one, with Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Mama) portraying Judith and Pacific Rim star Raleigh Becket as Dr. Alan McMichael – a supporting character who later takes on a bigger role. Before this effort Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska both appeared in Only Lovers Left Alive, where they aren’t lovers, so it was interesting to see them partake in a different dynamic. Both deliver solid performances, and it is Mia who steals the show. Her character goes through emotional extremes – joy to despair, elation to fear – and she succeeds at them all.
Overall, Crimson Peak is a beautiful gothic horror film that (I guess) isn’t a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it. The horror is there and Guillermo del Toro expertly executes it, but don’t go in expecting the usual haunted house film. If there is anything the film needs, it’s more of the incredible supernatural element.