By Alexia Evripidou
Crimson Peak is an intense, claustrophobic and seriously atmospheric horror film that is definitely worth watching, once. This latest addition to Guillermo Del Toro’s long list of notable movies is a decent drama/fantasy/horror but it is by no means up to the calibre of his highly acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth.
Starring Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston as the peculiar English siblings Lucille and Thomas, Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing the passionate ghost writer wannabe and Charlie Hunnam as Dr Alan McMichael, Edith’s suitor, Crimson Peak suffers with predictability. However, with the stunning musical score, eerie cinematography and excellent attention to detail in the period costumes, houses, furniture etc, that can well be forgiven. The film’s constant repressive atmosphere alone has you fused to the back of your seat with arms wrapped around your own shoulders for comfort.
It opens with the end scene, showing a willowy Edith against a blistering snowy back drop, telling us that ghosts are real. Jump to the beginning and you’re in privileged New York Victorian society. Edith is struggling to make her mark as a writer in the man’s world of literature and is advised to focus on romance novels. Although her book does involve a romance, it is a ghost story, where the ghosts are just metaphors for the story, or so Edith keeps repeating. The same could apply for the ghosts in the film. Although they frighten, they are merely metaphors for the film, they reflect a decaying society and its customs, merely offering a helping hand to drive the narrative but not much else. Del Toro likes to describe to the film as a “ghost story and gothic romance. A very set-oriented, classical but at the same time modern take on the ghost story,” however, it’s arguably more of a thriller.
The plot centres on Edith as she falls in love with a mysterious, tall, dark, handsome Englishman whom her father does not approve of. Charmed by his charisma and sensitivity, she marries Thomas and sets off to Cumbria, England to escape her childhood and recent trauma, leaving her childhood admirer behind. Everything changes once she arrives in the imposing mansion owned and inhabited by Thomas and his mysterious sister Lucille, members of the aristocracy who possess nothing except their good name and decaying mansion. The siblings’ house is cold in all senses of the word, with gapping holes in the roof and the red muddy soil seeping through the floor boards, but Edith can see the dark secrets and mysterious entities that Lucille and Thomas try to hide. After all, she has been able to see ghosts since the death of her mother when she was a child.
Dark and melancholic, although the plot is pretty obvious, there’s a twist at the end but it’s really the atmosphere and music that keeps the audience hooked. The camerawork, sets, costumes and effects are second to none; Del Toro has excelled in this department. The Gothic mansion and elaborate costumes tap into the old world era and help the thriller along nicely, as does Thomas’ crisp English accent and waifish good looks.
Trapped in the mansion in England, Edith begins to understand the warnings that her diseased mother’s spirit has tried to impart on her but its too late and she finds herself sick and unable to deal with the horrors that the house presents to her. Her sister in-law Lucille, a sly, sleek character, does not try to hide her disdain for Edith and Edith faces challenges of both the paranormal and deeply twisted human kinds as the realities and dreams unfold.
As the winter deepens, the crimson soil bleeds through the white snow, symbolically linking death, the house and the people who pass through it. Del Toro spreads symbolism throughout the film thickly, using red as a motive for the misery and death and open doors for the spirits.
Crimson Peak is seductive, sexy, dark and incredibly intense, so much so, it’s worth mentioning intense twice. It’s one of the better films Del Toro has made recently. It’s not often that a film can get away with a weak plot and still be enjoyable.
DIRECTED BY Guillermo del Toro
STARRING Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston