Crimson Peak: Film Review
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Gothic and ghastly in equal measure, Guillermo del Toro's Victorian-soaked Crimson Peak aims for scary chamber piece but ends up more as atmospheric attempt and in its final scenes, derivative and slasher silly.
Period piece go to actress du jour Wasikowksa stars as wannabe novelist Edith Cushing (reference number 1) who ends up falling for society man Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), much to the consternation of long time friend and potential love interest, Doctor Alan McMichael (Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam).
When her father dies brutally, Edith marries Sharpe, and moves to his somewhat spooky mansion in a remote part of England, where Thomas lives with his sister. But upon arrival, Edith's plagued by visions and begins to realise something's not quite right...
While The Frighteners-esque visuals and general atmosphere deserve to be richly commended as nothing short of a pre-Hallowe'en feast for audiences seeking their spooks, the high society melodrama elements of the story are lost in the mix as the maestro tries to weave a seductive tapestry but ultimately, ends up muddying some of the threads.
The haunted house vibe works superbly with del Toro's detailed eye, delivering the perfect mix of creepy corridors and moody mansion as well as throwing in some blink and miss it gruesome shocks from yesteryear. But, as the cameras pan down the long nightmarish corridors destined to haunt your darker nights by way of suggestion, it appears the cinematic cupboard is bare of real scares, preferring to let the chamber piece melodrama of icy and aloof Chastain, swarthy and sinister Hiddleston and stuck-between-worlds Wasikowska take centre stage. (Something which may surprise those looking for a things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thrill ride).
As the inherent mystery of the house, its inhabitants and its past all threaten to collide with hints of delicious promise, the coming together never delivers the coup de grace you are expecting. It's mainly due to the emphasis on the love triangle and the time taken to craft that section of the story, which doesn't quite hit the mark. There's no disputing del Toro's delivery of a magnificently moody atmosphere, but the prosecution weighs heavily against his would be "love makes monsters of us all" raison d'être.
And quite simply, the mystery of the siblings' bond is anything but original to anyone who's seen a horror film in the last 10 years.
Nods to Cushing and Mary Shelley as well as other inspirations are dispatched with ease early on and seem destined to play Del Toro's influence hand, but the script lacks a depth and retains an aloofness which will prove fatal to some audiences as it plays long and languorously out over its extended two hour run time.
Special mention must go to the lavish costuming and the beautifully bedecked mansion. Equally, the eerie score by The Orphanage's Fernando Velazquez is incredible (seriously, stay for the start of the end credits to see del Toro's vision perfectly embodied), drenching this cinematic Victoriana in a richness which is hard to shake.
The build-up and the extended tease is perfectly executed, but the ultimate reveal and overplaying of the Gothic elements of the story leave more questions than answers and frustrate, rather than thrill and electrify.
Ultimately, Crimson Peak is a masterclass in atmospheric execution and in influence, a sign that Del Toro's lost no sight of what makes a great film visually soar (some of the background detail over butterflies and insects really stand out); but a little more crafting of the love story and other elements could have made this haunted house drama a more enticing check-in prospect.