Director: Guillermin del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 16th October 2015
Guillermo del Toro doesn’t make many films, so when he does step behind the camera, it should be a time for celebration. The now legendary visionary who gave us the outstanding Pan’s Labyrinth is back with a gothic horror come melodrama that is high on production values, with three terrific lead actors and yet, for some reason, it doesn’t work as well as you would hope.
Edith Cushing is an aspiring writer and daughter to a wealthy businessman. Believing in ghosts, she soon befriends Thomas Sharpe, an Englishman out to raise money from her father but who has been completely taken by her. Edith’s father dismisses him and asks him to leave. Edith’s father is killed, leaving room for Thomas to propose to Edith and whisk her away to his home in English, which he shares with his sister, Lucille. Dilapidated and sitting on red clay, it soon becomes apparent to Edith that this house holds a deadly secret, revealed to her by the ghosts of its past.
As with all of del Toro’s films, this is a lavish visual treat. The costumes are impressive while the settings, especially the house, just leave you breathless. With its mix of gothic splendour and rotting walls, either covered with the crimson clay that the house sits on, or crawling with butterflies, every room, every corridor, every floor is a wonder to behold. If this doesn’t walk away with the best set designs and art direction at the Oscars next year, there is no justice. They are just as important to the film as the actors.
Where the film struggles is the pacing. Del Toro wants the tension to build slowly but in the process, the movie drifts along at a snail’s pace, with long scenes of dialogue and exposition that often has your eyes wandering from the screen and onto your watch. The story is intriguing enough and when the shocks come along, some of them very shocking indeed (you may need a strong stomach for a few of the more gory sequences) they are effective. It just takes so long to get there. At nearly two hours, it definitely fills that time.
You’re also never too sure what this is supposed to be. Is it a ghost story? A gothic horror or a gothic melodrama? It plays out like an expensive Hammer horror, yet spirits appear to haunt the bewildering Edith, yet the scenes of violence lends itself more to the modern horror fan who can’t have their imagination let loose, they must have everything visual.
Along with the stunning sets, we have three terrific performances. Mia Wasikowska has always been on the outskirts of stardom, with some noteworthy performances in films like Stoker, Jane Eyre and the hugely underrated, Tracks. Here she shines as the naive Edith, a woman brought into a world she cannot explain, having to cope with tragedy while having her heart taken by a strange Englishman, A very competent and solid role that hopefully will lead her onto bigger things.
Jessica Chastain is magnificent as the mysterious and creepy Lucille, the sister who holds the keys (literally) to the house and all the events that unfold around her. It is a perfectly judged performance from an actress who just gets better with every role. Tom Hiddleston is one of this country’s finest and after stealing every scene in The Avengers as Loki, here he gets the chance to shine as Thomas, a man torn between loyalty to his sister and the love of Edith. Nicely underplaying every scene, he is the perfect counterfoil to Chastain’s devilish sister.
I wanted to come out and sing the praises of Crimson Peak, being such a huge fan of Del Toro, and maybe that’s the problem. I was expecting too much. It’s not a terrible film by a long shot. It’s far more inventive and imaginative than anything else out there in horror land, it just takes far too long to get to where it wants to go. Having said that, if you want a visceral experience that will make you shudder, if not scream, then this is about the best horror you’ll see this side of The Babadook.