When it comes to the films of Guillermo Del Toro, you can generally count on being transported to a fantastic-looking cinematic world, regardless of how sub-par some of the elements are (looking at YOU, ‘Pacific Rim’ and your weak-ass dialogue!). Del Toro is VERY much a ‘visual’ director, and he maintains a very distinct style that mixes ‘real world’ and The Grotesque together in a vividly detailed and often ‘striking’ cinematic tapestry. In one way or another, I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of his films, going back to ‘Cronos’ (1993). I recognize the ‘short comings’ in his filmography, but the sheer volume of talent behind this director’s eyes is highly note-worthy and undeniable. I REALLY hope he gets to do his long gestating adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s literary classic ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (written in 1931)…and THIS flick really helped bolster the idea of Del Toro visually tackling THAT particular story. Getting back to ‘Crimson Peak’…I really enjoyed this one! I checked out a couple of Youtube reviews in advance…and not all was peachy. Some people seem to be feeling cheated by the marketing campaign, which very definitely paints this film as a horror / thriller / period-piece, which, in many respects, it is…without a doubt. That being said, strangely enough, I was reminded of a completely out-of-left-field genre…and that was Romance. Yep, there’s a perversely romantic undercurrent to this movie…and I liked it. Weird.
“Crimson Peak’ opens in late Victorian Era America, where we quickly meet ‘Edith Cushing’ (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring novelist trying valiantly to get her first story published…”a Romance, with a ghost in it.” Along the way, she crosses paths with ‘Thomas Sharpe’ (Tom Hiddleston), where a playful dynamic of friction emerges. But, somehow through that, a ‘connection’ is made, and ‘Thomas’ begins pursuit of the social ‘outsider’. ‘Edith’ is looked down up by the ‘higher’ Ladies of Polite Society and this potential romance sends ripples of alarm through the gossip circles. Despite some complications behind the scenes, ‘Edith’ finds herself falling for the striving entrepreneur, despite the fact that her protective and keenly aware father ‘Carter’ (Jim Beaver) has openly turned down ‘Thomas’ bid for the funding of his industrial clay mining apparatus. ‘Carter’, shortly after this, is brutally murdered in a bathhouse, leaving ‘Edith’ with the estate, but not much else. It’s then that they relocate to ‘Thomas’ property, which features an eerie and crumbling mansion; a mansion that’s synonymous with the words ‘BIG’ and ‘CREEPY’. Sharing the land with the monstrosity of a house is Thomas’ experimental, ‘industrial nightmare’ mining project, designed to extract the rich, red clay from below the grounds. As a result, the blood-like mud is actually swallowing the house whole, little by little. While trying to adjust to her new life in this cold and uncomfortable world, ‘Edith’ finds herself confronted by spectral visitors of a decidedly unpleasant nature. As she struggles to cope, sinister revelations and machinations show themselves…and her life is forever altered.
I’ll just tackle The Obvious here first: This movie is BEAUTIFUL. The cinematography is gorgeous and it takes it’s time showing us the details that make up THIS setting (actually all the settings are interesting). The movie is a vivid blend of lighting and shadow…colours and shades. Del Toro’s now signature look of ‘cool’ blue / green lighting contrasted by ‘warm’ yellow / orange was put to sexy use here, as many scenes take place in darkened moonlit rooms that are bathed in the rich glow of a fireplace or candles. Taking a cue from title, a generous dose of the color Red is also noticeably scattered throughout the slick Production Design, reinforcing the bloody and nefarious tone even further.
The Music, by Fernando Velázquez, was appropriately haunting, very much in keeping with the period being depicted and the overall tone of the story. It also fit Del Toro’s visuals like a glove, lending a certain grandiosity to the grim proceedings.
The Acting was certainly a notch above. Mia Wasikowska (‘Lawless’) was quite intriguing in this role, and I found myself sympathizing with, and rooting for, her character ‘Edith’. She wasn’t a timid little prude, but she was still a woman of the times, albiet a strong and determined one. The way that her emotions are yanked back and forth had me praying that Del Toro would gift this character a happy ending, as I felt that she’d earned it. As expected, Tom Hiddleston (‘Thor’) brought undeniable class to the production, with his strangely layered portrayal of ‘Thomas’; a character that, in the wrong hands (writer AND actor), could very easily have been reduced to ‘One Note’ and ‘Obvious’ status. Not here. Despite certain elements that emerge, I kept finding myself rooting for the character (sorta), sometimes against better judgement. In my opinion, when THAT happens, that’s a clear sign of an effective performance, and a disciplined actor. Another name in the credits that surprised me, as I didn’t realize that it was her till the credits rolled, was Jessica Chastain ‘(Zero Dark Thirty’). As ‘Thomas’ shifty and dark-minded sister ‘Lucille’, she was a force to be reckoned with. Chastain should be proud of herself, for 2015. Couple this with her solid, if limited, role as ‘Captain Lewis’ in ‘The Martian’, and this woman’s had a good year so far! Charlie Hunnam (‘Sons of Anarchy’) reunites with his ‘Pacific Rim’ director to play ‘Alan’, a doctor not-so-secretly pining for ‘Edith’ in the peripherals of the story. This time his butchery of his lines (don’t try North American accents, dude…you suck at them, no offence) didn’t drive me over the edge, as it did with ‘Pacific Rim’. For all the awesome visuals and ideas of THAT flick, Hunnam’s robotic performance and mangled dialogue actually knocked the movie’s ‘cool’ factor down a peg or two. Seriously. We also get Jim Beaver (‘Bobby’ from ‘Supernatural’!) as ‘Carter, ‘Edith’s loving but shrewd father. It was great to see him here, as it proved that he’s a diverse actor. He’s SO good and convincing as ‘Bobby’ that it was refreshing to see him given a role that was completely different from the loveably gruff ‘Hunter’ character he plays SO well. I quite enjoyed the Father / Daughter dynamic he shared with Wasikowska. It made him (and her) more relateable, and therefore added ‘gravity’ to his cold-blooded murder (don’t fret, that’s not a ‘spoiler’ that ruins the movie). The rest of the cast, featuring actors like Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope and Doug Jones all brought conviction to their parts.
If I had to complain about something, I’d first have to say that, while this flick is gruesome in parts (there’s a couple doozies, that’s for sure), it didn’t follow through with what could’ve been a spectacular (and deserving) death-by-scary-looking-industrial-machine sequence. It was sure set it up and, given the type of flick it had turned out to be, by that point, I was surprised when Del Toro didn’t capitalize on his own set up. And then there’s the CG. The ghosts that troll the darkened halls of the mansion are just creations calculated up in a computer…and I was very ‘aware’ of them. It would’ve been FAR more effective, scares-wise, if Del Toro had come up with creepy ways of realizing these spectres practically; ‘on set’ and ‘in camera’. Don’t get me wrong, for CG wraiths…they were pretty damn good CG wraiths. It’s just too bad the ‘CG’ part stood out SO much…to me, at least.
All in all, I went into ‘Crimson Peak’ with no solid expectations, and wasn’t bored once through the 119 minute run-time. It looked absolutely gorgeous, the camera work and editing were very effective, the acting ranged from ‘Quite Serviceable’ to ‘VERY Good’, the Production Design was rich and layered (great costumes), and the romance element caught me off guard, but it lent nicely to the overall tragedy of the story. When it gets violent, in true Del Toro fashion, it gets gruesomely so. It’s just a shame that I noticed more CG blood spurts than I normally like in my ‘icky’ movies. And the CG, while not in abundance, didn’t help to elevate the movie at all. It’s one aspect that will hold this one back, as those particular effects will ‘date’, and in doing so, ‘date’ the flick, as a ‘whole’. It’s a good thing ‘Crimson Peak’ as a lot more good stuff going for it, around those examples of ‘not quite worthy’ CG effects. This Supernatural / Horror / Period-Piece / Romance is worth your time, in my humble opinion. Effort was certainly invested in its production and the result is definitely worth your time. It’s not perfect…but what movie truly is (maybe ‘Aliens’…or ‘True Romance’?)? If I had to compare it to something else, in tone, the title that instantly came to mind was Tim Burton’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999), in both the ‘period’ trappings and the dark, nasty undercurrent in the narrative. If you liked THAT, then you’ll almost certainly like THIS.
* For whatever reason, these’s a brilliantly shot and choreographed ‘Waltz’ scene with Hiddleston and Wasikowska that had me unexpectedly grinning away in the dark. I don’t know what it was, but there was something very elegant and heart-warming about it.