Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
Tag line: "Beware"
Trivia: Visually, Guillermo del Toro wanted the film to look like a Mario Bava Technicolor movie
In a recent interview with Wired, Guillermo Del Toro listed his five favorite horror films, the first two of which, The Haunting and The Innocents, are ghost stories (for the record, the other 3 were Alien, Jaws, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). That’s not to say his 2015 offering Crimson Peak is, as some have stated, a haunted house movie; in fact, Del Toro himself has resisted calling it a horror film at all (“You have to fear the living more than the dead”, he said during this same interview, and the movie itself was designed to support this theory). But with its gothic sensibilities and gorgeous production values, as well as a handful of intensely creepy scenes, the director has, indeed, delivered a beautiful, if somewhat trite, ghost story that’s sure to give you at least a few shivers.
It’s the turn of the 20th century, and British nobleman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has come to Buffalo, New York, to ask businessman Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) to finance his newest invention, a steam-powered machine that will revolutionize the clay mining industry. Unimpressed (with both the presentation and Sharpe himself), Carter refuses, and is further annoyed to learn that the Englishman has started courting his only daughter Edith (Mia Wasikowska). In an effort to end their romance, Carter bribes both Sharpe and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who accompanied her brother to America, to depart for England as soon as possible. But when Carter dies in a mysterious accident, it clears the way for Edith to marry Sharpe and return with him to his ancestral home.
Alas, Cumberland’s Allerdale Hall, which has been in the Sharpe family for hundreds of years, has fallen into disrepair; aside from the gaping hole in the ceiling, the pipes have slowly rotted away, allowing the red clay from the ground to seep into the water supply. Still, Edith is determined to make the best of the situation and be a good wife to Edward. But the spirits are active in Allerdale Hall, and visit Edith on a regular basis, as if trying to warn her that Edward and Lucille are not who they appear to be.
Story-wise, Crimson Peak is nothing new. Anyone familiar with the work of Edgar Allan Poe will be able to predict most of the film’s twists and turns well in advance (the legendary author was especially fond of bizarre sibling relationships and dark romance, both of which figure prominently in this movie). But what Crimson Peak lacks in originality, it makes up for in style. The scene where Edith enters Allerdale Hall for the first time is one of the film’s strongest, and shows off the fine work done by Del Toro’s production crew (the house, though vast, is quite ominous, with leaves that fell through the hole in the roof blowing all around).
Even the early scenes in Buffalo are visually impressive, and perfectly recreate the period in which the film is set. As for the ghosts of Allerdale Hall, each one is bright red, and brought to life by Doug Jones (via motion capture), who also played the Fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth and Abe Sapien in the Hellboy series. Creeping through the halls while at the same time distorting his body in an otherworldly manner, Jones gives the film its spooky vibe, and, along with Jessica Chastain (whose quite good as the overbearing Lucille), brings us to the edge of our seat whenever one of his characters is on-screen.
In the end, watching Crimson Peak was a lot like re-reading my favorite Poe story: the surprises may not be fresh, but it still left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.