In Guillermo del Toro’s newest film, which is set around the turn of the twentieth century, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a woman who has been able to see ghosts her whole life.
She falls in love with a mysterious English baronet (Tom Hiddleston), and accompanies him and his creepy sister (Jessica Chastain) overseas to live in their dilapidated mansion. Meanwhile, she is visited by her mother’s ghost for the first time since her childhood and warned of a place called ‘Crimson Peak.’
Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors who believes the unreal should have substance on the big screen. His other films, such as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, and even (say what you will) Hellboy and Pacific Rim boast great looking sets, costumes and violence, as well as a healthy avoidance of computer generated effects (when possible).
Crimson Peak is no different. It shows off great nineteenth century dresses, suits and buildings, but the real quality is to be found in the mansion.
The work put in the mansion alone makes the movie worth seeing. Red clay oozes from rotting floorboards like thick blood, a gaping hole in the roof allows snow to gather in the main room, moonlight shines through long, empty hallways, etc.
Films like Paranormal Activity, who for years have been using the excuse that a familiar-looking house is better, are put to shame.
The mansion isn’t plagued by the now-familiar slamming doors or invisible ghosts, either. Doug Jones, who played both the faun and ‘the pale man’ in Pan’s Labyrinth, puts in a great deal of effort under a great deal of makeup.
When he asked del Toro what he should tell people he’s playing in Crimson Peak, del Toro advised to “tell them it’s a haunted house story…and ask them what they f-ing think you’re going to play.”
However, Crimson Peak has received a lot of criticism for not just being a haunted house movie. For any unsuspecting audiences, such as the group to my above right in the theatre, the romance received far too much attention.
I disagree. True, the romance takes up a startlingly large part of the first half of the film. Edith and baronet Sharpe find each other interesting, dance and are frowned upon by Edith’s father.
Cheesy love is abundant, the drama rises, and it’s hard not to step back and realize how mushy some scenes are. I’m not that fond of romance films and don’t know how cliché a lot of the mush was, but it works on the whole.
What’s important is the second half, where the horror really gets started. The romance reaps its rewards here. We aren’t being immediately thrust into a story of newlyweds moving into a haunted house. We know their characters, and have our suspicions and guesses from early scenes. The movie’s ending isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it works a lot better than other movies thanks to its context.
It’s debatable how scary the film is. Perhaps we’re all too conditioned to bloody ghosts and jump-scares, but I was never on the edge of my seat. That may vary person to person, of course. As a haunted house movie, I enjoyed Crimson Peak entirely for its quality. You might not want to watch it for Halloween, but should see it unless you can’t stand romance.