del Toro makes a lot of fantastic media, ranging from subtle horror to giant robots smashing aliens in the face, to comic book adaptations to what would have likely been the greatest hour video known to man if Konami was not chaired by morons. And while he does have prowess as a storyteller, where his film shine is in their signature whimsical aesthetic, transporting audiences to a new world seemingly right before their eyes. But does his return to his horror roots create yet another masterpiece or has he bit off more than he can chew with this Victorian tale of terror?
Let’s take a look at Crimson Peak.
At the late 19th century, Edith Cushing desires to be a writer but no one takes her seriously, save for the optometrist Alan McMichael who clearly loves Edith. However, because apparently del Toro followed the narrative device of “women don’t know what’s good for them,” she ends up falling for the tragically British and titled Thomas Sharpe. However, once they are married, Edith finds that Thomas and his sister Lucille might be hiding a dark and deadly secret. Also there’s ghosts, but they are basically an afterthought in the film too.
So if you’re looking for this to be a scary movie, you might want to reconsider. The big issue is that early on in the film del Toro shows us the ghost when Edith’s mom comes to visit her. Yes, the design is off-putting and unique, but the problem is that we see that both good ghosts and bad ones look exactly the same. Not to mention that while the ghosts are disruptive, there doesn’t seem to be a lot they can do to hurt people, so after seeing them twice, their appearance is no longer scary. Not to mention the fact that all the good scenes were already spoiled in the trailers, and half of the imagery was pulled out of context to make it frightening when in reality it wasn’t.
If this movie were solely graded on its visuals, it would get a 5 star rating across the board. Every single aspect is beautifully crafted, from the architecture, to the costume design, to the hair styles of time. The ghosts are creepy but gloriously rendered, making them both hauntingly beautiful and disturbingly eerie at the same time, so its hard to look away. The home itself is so well designed in its dark gothic nature that honestly, I would have loved it if the movie spent more time exploring the spine-thrilling nooks and crannies of the place rather than just dealing with the human drama.
A bit of the dialogue is cheesy, the plot a bit too over the top, and the characters are a little too stiff and wooden (though the framing device is a book so that accounts for a lot). I have to say that the ending itself is also a let-down, considering there was a lot that could have been done with it, but they played it safe with the creepy but ultimately harmless extended shot on a ghost. In fact, the entire narrative feels like it’s a laundry list of scary things that could have been but were ultimately squandered.
Jessica Chastain is on a roll that never seems to end, and so after being the stalwart captain in The Martian, she throws herself into the absolute insanity of Lucille Sharpe. While Wasikowska and Hiddleston have excellent chemistry together and have some subtle bits going on, nothing beats Chastain’s simmering rage and calm cruelty, to the point where I was no longer concerned with the ghosts, it was Chastain I was scared of. After all, once you find out the very heavily hinted at twist (though, to its credit, I didn’t get it entirely right), Chastain is basically the most deadly entity to combat with. Also Jim Beaver, best known for his role as Bobby Singer in Supernatural, plays Edith’s father with all the charming gruffness and bluster I have come to admire him for. I only wish he didn’t have to be brutally murdered for the sake of the plot.
All in all, Crimson Peak presents a beautifully made and visually interesting film that fails to deliver on the story and scares. If this were made into a concept art book, it would have been award winning masterpiece but there’s so much potential wasted that the film bows under the weight of its own promise. Hopefully, del Toro will get his narrative act back together so we can get another masterpiece that we all know he’s capable of making.
– Excellent visuals.
– Great acting.
– Excellent design work.
– Story was not well written and scary.
– Issues with ghost reveal.