Tweetable Takeaway: Crimson Peak is a captivating new revival of Gothic Horror and romanticism. Tweet
CRIMSON PEAK is the kind of film that is going to put filmgoers desperately at odds. For horror fans looking for fast frights and the quick pacing that mainstream outings have perpetuated in the last decade, Crimson Peak is not going to live up to your expectations. However, if you’re a fan of Gothic ghost stories and the classic filmography of Vincent Price, then Crimson Peak is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
Early on, the film makes it blatantly clear that the ghosts are only there to service the story. Sorry kiddies, the “boos” aren’t frequent and are far between. This isn’t a relentless barrage of jump scares. Ditching the conventions of modern horror, Crimson instead is more of a tragic love story, with all the violence, gore, and ghouls there to highlight a passionate and dangerous romance that exists within the walls of Allerdale Hall.
Crimson follows Edith Cushing (a blatant and well-appreciated nod to Peter Cushing of Hammer fame), a young Mary Shelley-type who’s fascinated with ghosts and penning a supernatural story of her own. She generally swears off romance, until she’s swept off her feet by a mysterious and penniless English Baronet, Sir Thomas Sharp, who takes her away to his crumbling manor in the English Hills. Allerdale Hall, deemed by the locals as Crimson Peak, echoes a warning issued to Edith as a child by the spirit of her mother. “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
Also living there is Thomas’ morbid and perpetually brooding sister Lady Lucille, who protects the rotting abode’s dark secrets, as well as her own. Able to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, Edith slowly begins to unravel the mysteries behind the old house and the brother and sister who occupy its decaying halls.
Crimson Peak thrives from a slowed pace, following one of the film’s biggest scares in the opening hook. This pace allows for us to really become swept into the world and care deeply for Edith and her blossoming romance with Thomas. Mia Wasikowska shines as Edith, with her furrowed brow, piercing eyes, and inherent innocence giving us prime cause to root for her. Wasikowska’s clothed in white, making her presence aswelcome one admist the raven-colored adornments of Lucille and Thomas.
Hiddleston is superb as Thomas, with his expressive eyes yielding sympathy despite whatever deprave actions he undertakes. Hiddleston remarkably possesses the innate ability to shift from a sweeping English gentleman to a man filled with scorn and hopeless ambition. Here, Hiddleston evokes the inherent sadness of Vincent Price in The Pit and the Pendulum and A House on Haunted Hill, easily a fit for any of the Roger Corman Edgar Allen Poe adaptations.
However, the real standout here is Jessica Chastain, in a mad role that becomes the scariest aspect of the entire film. With flowing hair as dark as coal and a nerve like a tight-fisted hand to the grindstone, Chastain excels and repels as the vile and slithering enchantress. Here she radiates sinister agendas and cruel glances, with a sinewy visage like the new Barbara Steele.
The film is an essential Guillermo del Toro work of art, with striking visuals and a gorgeous palette. Bright red clay oozes like blood from the walls, beneath the floorboards, and in the basement of the house, as well as providing a stark contrast to the pure white falling snow.
Insects, a favorite visual element of the inspired director’s wheelhouse, are used here as unnerving symbolism, with one particularly grisly sequence in which ants devour a dying butterfly. Black moths adorn the decrepit house, which feels so very open to the outside world with caved-in ceilings and breaches in the tattered walls. Del Toro makes us feel trapped in the manor along with Edith, yet we can feel the unreachable freedom of the outside world.
Implementing a beautiful mix of CGI and prosthetic makeup, Del Toro creates some of the most stunning, sinister-looking, and downright terrifying ghosts that we’ve ever seen. Horrifying and bloodcurdling, these projections feel alive, surrounded by a blistering aura of blood that envelops like smoke. Del Toro weaves a foreboding atmosphere of dread, evoking slow-building terror with every howl of the wind and rise in the score.
The superior visuals aren’t just eye candy, as one can plainly see that del Toro is always trying to service the story, with every lighting fixture and slow dolly further bringing us into his world. Even the violence feels intrinsic to the story, with each fowl murder committed as a close and personal act. Knives and blades take center stage in del Toro’s play and he makes you feel the vicious emotion behind every slash, tear, and pierce. The gore is hefty, but never reaches an excessive amount, merely to showcase the inner workings within the characters, which come so easily tumbling out.
Del Toro fans won’t be disappointed, as Crimson Peak feels like the genre-favorite director’s most treasured baby. The true love story here is between del Toro and his influences, matching the elegant, Victorian horror of The Innocents with the colorful and striking Italian terror of Mario Brava. The gorgeous set pieces and lavish production design hearkens back to the days of old Hollywood. You’ll find little examples of green-screen here. Instead we have seemingly endless sets filled with immaculate detail. We feel ever present in a very real space.
Crimson is Gothic Horror at its finest, ushering back to the days of The Pit and The Pendulum, the Hammer Dracula‘s, The Long Hair of Death, and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Though the film borrows heavily from these influences, it still feels uniquely like it’s own entity and a classic example of old-fashioned filmmaking at its finest. With abundant visual splendor, Crimson Peak exists all at once as a captivating Gothic haunt, a throwback to a beloved era of filmmaking, and an exciting new chapter in the career of the most visceral director working in mainstream cinema.
I give it 4.5 oozing pits of crimson clay out of 5.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Bryan is a filmmaker who is now living in Hollywood. On any given Saturday you can find him dressing like an 80’s dad and singing “Just a friend” until someone asks him to stop.
Bryan Liberty | Contributor