CRIMSON PEAK (8.5 out of 10) Directed by Guillermo del Toro; Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins; Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Doug Jones; Rated R for "bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language"; Running time 119 min; In wide release October 16, 2015.
Crimson Peak isn't a horror movie, or even a ghost story. Not really. While it has ghosts in it, it is a gothic romance. In the opening scene, we're introduced to a blood-splattered Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who explains about ghosts, and her experience with them. In turn of the century Buffalo, NY, Edith, a budding author and daughter of a local successful industrialist, is working on a novel of her own. The ghosts in her story aren't the point - they're more symbolic.
The ghosts that flit in and out of the narrative of "Crimson Peak" are similar -- a few jump scares and they're gone. The real horrors of this story lie in the evils that men do.
The joys of the film come from its amazing atmosphere and visuals and how they build on the tension and drama of the storyline. The colors! The score! The architecture! The blend of gorgeous practical effects with technicolor digital! Those costumes! This would be the ultimate triumph of style over substance. . . except there's so much substance. It's like Jane Eyre meets The Shining. It's Mary Shelley. It's Edgar Allen Poe. And it's 100% Guillermo Del Toro, who is at the top of his visual game here. This is the perfect companion piece to his earlier Pan's Labyrinth.
Enter Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) a visiting baronette from England whose family land is rich in a deep red clay that creates the world's finest masonry. He is looking for investors to fund the construction of a machine of his own design that will make the clay mines productive and profitable once again.
While all the other folks in town are quite taken with having landed gentry among them, Edith and her father are varying levels of uninterested to outright hostile. And, of course, a romance ensues, which ends with Edith being whisked away to the Sharpe family home, a drafty, spooky manor where the walls literally bleed with the thick, red clay running in streams down the stonework in the walls and seep through the basement floorboards.
And there's ghosts. And secrets. But the secrets end up being far more frightening than the ghosts. And then it all ends in blood. Be ready to cover your eyes for some very realistic and gruesome, bloody violence.
On top of the atmosphere, the performances here are exquisite. Hiddleston plays a nuanced romantic lead who is both tragic, despicable, and heroic. Chastain steals the movie as the overbearing and creepy sister. And in a master stroke, Del Toro calls upon frequent collaborator Doug Jones to provide the motion capture performances for the ghosts. And it provides a (pardon the irony) life and realism to these monstrous apparitions that is the coup de grace in this romantic ghost story. . . that isn't at all about ghosts.
Despite all of this, the film still soars on style but doesn't meet that same mark for plot and character. And because of that, it is possibly my least favorite Del Toro film of the last 15 years. But it is gorgeous to look at and likely his most visually stunning effort to date. It's a great gothic gory film that's a perfect blend of Halloween and Valentine's Day. And if any of this sounds at all remotely interesting to you, do your eyes a favor and give them this treat.
8.5 out of 10