Crimson Peak: A Review
“Ghosts are real. That much I know.”
This first line, accompanied by the deathly pale and bleeding face of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is the perfect introduction to Guillermo Del Toro’s latest release, Crimson Peak.
On the surface, it may appear as though we are being offered nothing particularly new, and we’re not as such. This is a film based firmly in the gothic literary tradition but rather than feeling dated or unnecessary, it achieves its desired effect so well that it is a startlingly fresh and rewarding cinematic experience.
The plot concerns Edith, the daughter of a wealthy American businessman, Carter (Jim Beaver). Edith has been haunted from an early age by the ghost of her mother, who warns her to ‘beware Crimson Peak’ in perfectly pitched scenes of supernatural tension. Del Toro’s ghosts throughout this film have a wonderful, highly stylised look. They have a unique ethereal form mixed with a tangibility that works well to provide them with a threatening aspect that ghosts on film often lack.
English inventor, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) approaches Carter to broker a deal with his struggling, red clay mining business. Carter refuses but it is here that Sharpe catches the eye of Edith and following a family tragedy, she marries him and moves to England to take up residence with him and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in their family home, Allerdale hall.
The performances of the core cast, Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain are fantastic. Scenes between Wasikowska and Chastain are a joy to watch. Both of them inhabit the gothic roles: Wasikowska – albeit as an American – echoing her eponymous turn in the 2011 Jane Eyre adaptation. Chastain delves into manic territory, as though a woman from an attic let loose. Her performance is easily one of the most captivating elements of the film. Sinister, debauched secrets simmering below her cold reserve forming the crux of the plot and allowing Chastain to explore a vivid range, which she does masterfully.
Perhaps the most impressive element of Crimson Peak though, is Crimson Peak itself (yes, Allerdale Hall’s nickname – surprise, surprise – Crimson Peak).
Del Toro’s films are instantly recognisable for their blend of the fantastical and horrific, with painstakingly grand set design. This one is no different. The house’s decay is astonishing: leaves and snow fall through gaping holes in the rafters; the red clay oozes through the walls and combines with the snow to create a bloody hilltop; and the architecture within screams gothic, mixed with the intricate style present in Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy.
As is the case in the majority of gothic fiction, Del Toro and previous collaborator, Matthew Robbins (Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, Mimic) heavily signpost any twists, but in the tradition of the genre we are not particularly meant to be surprised by the outcomes. It is how we get to those outcomes that make this film a must-see. Even in what could be more cringe-worthy moments such as the mention of Mary Shelley or Dr. Alan McMichael’s (Charlie Hunnam) slightly neglected detective sub-plot, Crimson Peak stays true to its key gothic directive.
An unrelenting, brutal picture offering audiences’ a thrill and a revel in the macabre, delivering in spades.