Less frighty and more frilly nightie; Guillermo del Toro’s sumptuous Crimson Peak is a classic romance tale disguised as a haunted house horror.
Visionary director and writer Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots with a chilling foray into classic gothic romance with Crimson Peak; starring Aussie Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam, this captivating period piece might enchant you with its good looks, but falls just shy of true greatness through some ho-hum plotting.
Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, an ambitious American author who is whisked across Atlantic by her dashing new groom, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), to live on his crumbling Cumbrian estate. Whilst it may’ve fallen on hard times of late, Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Chastain), hope to restore the manor to its former glory by mining the distinctive red clay that coats the earth beneath. However, much to Edith’s dismay, something eerie stalks the halls at night and threatens to unearth dark secrets concerning the mysterious Sharpe clan.
When considering the set, costume and character design, Crimson Peak is more than just a ‘movie’; it’s a living, breathing work of art that breeds a rich, brooding atmosphere of sexual tension and moodiness. This is par for the course by this point; anyone familiar with del Toro’s acclaimed work on Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy can expect Crimson Peak to be an equally scrumptious visual experience from start to finish.
A dark mansion sat atop a snowy summit; a fair-haired heroine creeping through shadowy halls by candlelight; a steampunk workshop filled with complex contraptions – Crimson Peak is a decorative treat where every single frame feels delicately staged, and everything within it feels studiously crafted. The ornate gothic style permeates every inch of the striking manor house, from the grand arching staircase right down to the minutest details on a door lock or fireplace. In many ways, the house is a fleshed-out character all of its own, if you’ll pardon the cliché.
Del Toro even employs a collection of old-fashioned camera tricks to further develop this romantic, Expressionist tone; from unconventional framing that sees Hiddleston’s elaborate cape engulf the screen to numerous iris wipes that focus-in on a tiny detail in-between scenes, every aspect of Crimson Peak works in tandem to further develop the operatic sensibilities del Toro is so well known for.
However, if you cast aside the unforgettable visual craftsmanship for just a second, other less impressive elements like the creaky narrative become increasingly evident. A slight twist deep into the second act shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone with a passing grade in horror movies, whilst some sluggish pacing leaves the middle section feeling a tad repetitive. Plus, hard-core fans of pant-shitting horror will leave feeling underwhelmed; del Toro’s film is more interested in carefully capturing that theatrical romance vibe than making audiences soil themselves in terror. It isn’t until the film lets loose during the hack-and-slash finale that you feel truly poised on the edge of your seat.
To their credit, the cast provide an array of wondrously manic performances; Wasikowska mixes youthful curiosity with smitten doe-eyes whilst Hiddleston is perfect as the dashing English gent who sweeps her off her feet. However, outshining them both is Chastain, as the seething and slightly demented sister with something to hide.
The Verdict: 6.5/10
Crimson Peak toes the line of style over substance, but a stellar third act where del Toro relinquishes all inhibitions proves to be its saving grace. It might not be his most memorable work to date, but Crimson Peak is another worthy addition to del Toro’s distinct filmography, and a lasting love letter to all things weird and wonderful.
Crimson Peak is in cinemas across Australia now.