Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver
Release Date: October 16th
Guillermo del Toro is one of the great showers of our time. His movies are rich with colour, character and a fastidious approach to attempting to get things in camera. He’s never shirked from CGI but has remained one of the last mainstream bastions of makeup, animatronics and set building. His latest, Crimson Peak, a lush gothic romance story excels in the show but really struggles with its reliance on the tell.
Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a spectre-seeing writer who lives with her father (a gritty and elegant Jim Beaver), a wealthy self-made man, in Buffalo, New York. Her craft are romance stories that feature ghosts used a symbol of the past and while naive, she possesses a mean streak — she mentions how she always like Mary Shelley because she ended a widow. She becomes transfixed with Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), a baronet from Cumberland who, along with his sister Lucille (Chastain), is looking to raise investment for red clay mining. They wed, retreating to the Sharpe’s ancestral home of Allerdale House, a gargantuan crumbling monolith in the harsh north-west of England where things start to get a little weird.
As for the show, for a movie that is obsessed with ghouls and death, there may not be another film this year that breaths so full of life. Del Toro relishes in the spectacles he’s created with regal banquets, bustling markets and vast graveyards all shot in a wash of greens, reds and yellows. The spectacle of the camera stalking through the vast labyrinthine corridors of the eponymous Crimson Peak are breathtaking. The house is an organism, one that oozes blood red on its walls (that’ll be the clay mines) and an open roof allows snow to collect in its grand hall.
Wasikowska and Hiddleston are good as the troubled lovers but this movie belongs solely to Jessica Chastain who finally gets to ditch the role of supporting space-travellers over video link and unleash a wicked heel turn. Despite featuring the long, lank Doug Jones inhabiting all sorts of apparitions — including one split in half through force of a cleaver — she’s the most terrifying thing on screen, shifting from bubbling malice to full wide-eyed insanity with aplomb.
For someone synonymous with supernatural, it’s been almost two decades since del Toro has made a straight horror. He works best when letting the horror creep into another genre, be they civil-war drama, fantasy or here, Jane Austen territory. That’s not to say there’s no shocks, this is a movie that pays as much attention to ornate costume design as it does skulls being cracking open like coconuts.
And to the tell, the pitfall of an otherwise highly enjoyable romp. Crimson Peak loads superfluous think out loud thoughts, lengthy exposition dumps and unneeded flashbacks on a story that’s not exactly Tristram Shandy in its nature. It’s a shame del Toro doesn’t give his audience more credit; if they can accept Charlie Hunnam as an Arthur Conan Doyle reading physician, they don’t need their hand held.