Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak photo starrating-3stars.jpgIt’s the turn of the 20th century and the Victorian era is coming to an end. Edith Cushing is a would-be author of ghost stories in Buffalo, New York. She hopes to get published. She meets a enigmatic English aristocrat who likes her writing and, by extension, her as well – naturally. Unfortunately her Father doesn’t approve of the man – naturally. One thing leads to another and Edith’s heart is broken – as you would expect.  There’s a lot more but you get the idea. Crimson Peak is the latest from the mind of Guillermo del Toro, the artiste behind Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. The chronicle employs spooky aspects but it hews a lot closer to the affairs of the heart than outright scares. You see the ghosts are a metaphor. Edith even explicitly tells us this point regarding her own work. The gothic romance is exquisitely ornate in atmosphere, but completely routine in story.

Reviewers are fond of tossing around descriptive phrases like “gothic fiction” to describe a film, but what defines “gothic” anyway? A personifying trait is the old foreboding mansion in a state of decay, a haunted house if you will, that harbors a terrible secret or serves as the sanctuary for a questionable character. The genre is generally traced back to The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, but was popularized by authors including Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Daphne du Maurier. Some of the great classics of 19th-century literature—Frankenstein, The House of the Seven Gables, Jane Eyre, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame partly reference the style. Horror elements are often present, but a sophisticated romanticism usually informs the subject. Movies like Rebecca (1940), The Innocents (1961) and The Others (2001) are the benchmarks in the cinematic world.

Crimson Peak aspires to those standards. It benefits from a first-rate cast. Although they’re all playing archetypes you’ve seen many times before. Mia Wasikowska is the quintessential woman in distress, as is de rigueur for a gothic romance such as this. She was the star of 2011’s Jane Eyre so she can plays this role in her sleep. Tom Hiddleston is the suitably mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, the dapper stranger for whom she falls. Jessica Chastain is Lucille, Thomas’ overprotective sister. She’s a devoted devil in full tilt “Mrs. Danvers” mode. If Thomas’ odd behavior didn’t serve as a warning sign to innocent Edith, then Lucille’s creepy disposition should have been an outright slap in the face. Charlie Hunnam is a clean cut, prospective suitor that would appear to be the more sensible choice and Jim Beaver is Carter Cushing, Edith’s wealthy father.

The presentation is meticulously detailed, employing a veritable smorgasbord of gleefully elaborate costumes, lush set design and a strings-infused score by Fernando Velazquez. They dress up an R rated production that occasionally falls victim to excess. The up-to-the-minute digital effects sometimes distract from the sumptuous proceedings, rather than assist them. The inky floating specter of her dead mother repeatedly pops up to warn her to avoid Crimson Peak. Wouldn’t you know that’s exactly where she ends up. Go figure. The screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins won’t win any awards in the originality departement. The surprise is that the plot is indeed conventional right through to the end. I was shocked by how utterly derivative the story truly is. Was that the twist? My eyes were delighted however and I suppose that counts for something. The house is bewitchingly decrepit. More questions. Why is non-stop debris constantly falling through the ceiling in Allerdale Hall? Why doesn’t someone call the roofer? Don’t think.  Just watch as the fashion, music and mood gorgeously feast on a feeble script. Crimson Peak is all beauty, no brains.

10-16-15

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11 Responses to “Crimson Peak”

  1. Nice review! I’ll probably check this out, even if it sounds like a case of style over substance. 🙂

  2. It’s been pretty interesting reading reviews for this, it sounds like a rather uninspired entry in a typically creative canon for del Toro, minus the visuals of course. Idk if that’s enough for me to go check it out; maybe I will on half price night or something. That still feels weird to do though with a Guillermo del Toro movie. . . . .

    • I was really hoping this was going to be Guillermo del Toro’s biggest hit ever. Unfortunately it tanked at the box office. Understandably audiences don’t seem too keen on it.

      Adjusting for inflation, 2002’s Blade II is still his biggest success at the box office. That doesn’t seem right. 😮

  3. Another great review mate!

  4. Very stylish. Scenes looked very eerie and beautiful. Story was good, but entities were typical cgi. 3 stars.

  5. As I watched Crimson Peak, I knew the story had been done many times over. Normally that would bother me, but this film was a rare instance where I didn’t mind because everything was just so lush from the special effects to the costumes, and the music. The movie’s ghosts creeped me out (even though they’re just a metaphor) and its gore was chilling to me too. Short story: I totally fell for the atmosphere it created and I was able to overlook its “feeble script” as you call it. Totally not sorry about it either. Haha.

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