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Review: Crimson Peak (2015)

Crimson Peak (2015)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Premise: Set in the Victorian era, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) is swept off her feet by a charming British aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston). But when she comes to live with him and his sister (Jessica Chastain) in the family’s decrepit mansion, supernatural events start to occur.

What Works: One of the outstanding qualities of Guillermo del Toro’s work is the art direction. Like Ridley Scott, del Toro pays close attention to detail in the sets and costume design and he excels in creating fully realized environments. What distinguishes del Toro’s work is the tension between beauty and ugliness and movies like Mimic, Blade II, and Pan’s Labyrinth have sequences in which the subject matter is violent or revolting but the way those images are realized on screen is quite stunning. Crimson Peak may be the best example of that in del Toro’s filmography. The second half of the movie takes place in a dilapidated mansion and the mix of old world class and organic decay makes for a very creepy setting. The movie has a vivid visual texture and the dampness of the setting and the blood of the violence are very palatable. Even the ghosts of the movie have a biological component to their look that is reminiscent of visuals in the original Hellraiser. But Crimson Peak is most reminiscent of the costume horror of the 1960s, namely the gothic horror movies produced by the Hammer studio such as Horror of Dracula and the Roger Corman produced adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories like House of Usher. What del Toro has done with Crimson Peak is call back to that brand of romantic gothic horror and brought it into the twenty-first century with contemporary filmmaking technology, more complex ideas, and a healthy dose of feminism.

What Doesn’t: The craft with which Crimson Peak has been made can’t overshadow the fact that the story is nothing special. In fact, there is a lot in this movie that is familiar from the many titles that inspired it as well as more recent horror movies such as The Woman in Black and Stoker which in many respects did the same material better. Crimson Peak is intended to be a mystery in which Mia Wasikowska’s character gradually uncovers the truth about her new husband and his family. But the script does not give Wasikowska very much to do and the truth of the matter is apparent early on. The opening of Crimson Peak is a costume drama love story in which the American daughter of a wealthy businessman, played by Wasikowska, falls for a charming and seemingly earnest British aristocrat played by Tom Hiddleston. The love story is key to the movie but the set up takes far too long. One of the recurring story problems of Crimson Peak is the way its characters constantly behaving in incredible ways. The love between Wasikowska and Hiddleston’s characters is forbidden by her father. He dies under circumstances that are obviously murder but no one figures that out and Wasikowska’s character runs off to England with her new husband without resolving her father’s estate. From there Crimson Peak introduces a lot of narrative parts that never come together. The movie has a supernatural element but the ghosts are almost an aside; the movie would work without them and they add very little to the story. Hiddleston’s character uses his wife’s money to finance an excavation of the mysterious red clay from the grounds his family’s land. The business venture does not figure into the story alongside all the other subplots and themes. In the meanwhile, an American doctor (Charlie Hunnam) who bears unrequited love for Wasikowska’s character begins investigating her marriage and eventually comes to the truth. But the relationship between Hunnam and Wasikowska is not interesting and there’s no credible romantic triangle. In the end, the immediate conflicts are resolved but nothing deeper is accomplished or affirmed.

Bottom Line: Crimson Peak has some terrific production values but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The movie has a great look and it is sufficiently spooky but it suffers from too many storytelling flaws.

Episode: #565 (October 25, 2015)