FILM REVIEW: Crimson Peak


When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak. From the imagination of director Guillermo del Toro comes a gothic romance starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam.

Horror films often feature an over abundance of blood, be it running down the walls or exploding from an unlucky soul’s body. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak does things a little differently, the red stuff dominating proceedings are swelling up from the ground instead: the red clay that dwells beneath Allerdale Hall and that threatens to claim the grand but sinking house with every passing second. There is still a place for the bodily variety of rouge too however, so if that’s a thing for you, you won’t be disappointed either.

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I’d love to see Ground Force sort this little lot out!

Crimson Peak follows the tribulations of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman with her heart set on being a published author and her head full of fantasies about finding love. One of the very earliest scenes happens when she is a young girl and is shortly after the death of her mother. She lies on the bed, tearful and emotional, the rough weather outside doing nothing to dim her feelings. The clock stops ticking, the door handle to her room begins to violently twist up and down, and a warning is delivered by the now frightening shade that her mother has become: “Beware of Crimson Peak!” Time shifts to Edith as a young woman, her fortunes soon entwining with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), the new stranger in her life. Edith is about to get the love and attention that society at around the start of the 20th century cannot afford her. She is also about to have her life turned upside-down and face the most sinister of things, both of human origin and the supernatural.

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What dark thoughts sit behind that firelight caressed brow I wonder?

The film can be split roughly into two halves: the first showing Edith in America with her family and the everyday life that goes along with it. The second part of the film has her uprooted to life in England, to the Sharpe family home Allerdale Hall, there to live with Thomas and his strange sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Existence is certainly different there, the weather harsh, the building decrepit and the residents a strange mixture of furtiveness and rage. This, if you like, is the darkest part of the film, and it sets a great counterpart to the comparative lightness in the America-based happenings.

What can I say about Allerdale Hall? It is probably one of the most impressive on-screen buildings I have ever seen; as much a character in the film as the denizens that live there. Shattered roofing allows leaves and the elements to rain down in the massive lobby, the huge log fires struggling to make a dent in the frigid atmosphere. Dark shadows flicker and shift along the huge stairways, creaks and moans echo down from the higher levels, or up from the basement. If visitors desire to eschew the stairs, a rickety metal elevator rattles its way between floors like some kind of shaking tin-man, its lift shaft marked with red clay and other oozings.

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Might be a contender for the new British Gas “change your heating” adverts.

That is not to detract from the characters and the way they are ably portrayed by the actors. Edith is played very well by Mia Wasikowska but I have to say that I felt the real stars were the siblings Sharpe, both played superbly. Tom Hiddleston’s expressions as he played Thomas were very telling, the uncertainty and coldness occasionally visible in his eyes doing a great job of informing the viewer. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille was very blank-faced, but when emotion did flicker it was something wild and savage. She was certainly the more unnerving of the two, in my opinion at least.

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What would a horror be without its ghosts and spirits however? Crimson Peak has this area well covered, the CG effects detailed and lavish, the sound effects all suitably full of anguished screams and hissed words. Crimson Peak is described as a gothic romance film rather than a horror however, even though many view it as one. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, as the horror element is very strong, yet so is the love aspect. Let’s not get too entrenched in labels of genre here though, it’s a fantastic film whichever pigeon-hole you want to push it into. The film also contains the occasionally very violent scene, but these are used to great effect rather than simply there to build the gore factor.

I do have some small criticisms however. Early on I noticed a number of scenes in which the lip-syncing of the actors didn’t match the words. Admittedly, these scenes were not close-ups but it still managed to annoy me a little, and I am not one to purposefully try to look for this kind of issue. I noticed it less as the film went on so I was either too engrossed at that point, or it simply stopped occurring. The other issue I have is that I felt that, when it came to the actions of the siblings Sharpe, the film could have delayed some of the “reveal” about what was really going on. I felt that their behavior and the expressive way they were portrayed told the viewer more than enough about their possible motives, or at the least, hinted that not all was as it seemed, yet the film seemed to tip its hand a little too early for my own liking. I guess that’s just the writer in me being fussy though, so I don’t hold it against Crimson Peak too strongly.

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Looks like this year’s preparations for Xmas took a turn for the worse!

Crimson Peak is an atmospheric, sensually designed film that layers detail upon detail, be it the sets and locations or the actors and their clothing, and it is a real treat to watch. The horror, while there, wasn’t particularly scary; I only jumped at one scene and in my opinion, that was the cheapest jump-scare of the film. What Crimson Peak does well is to inculcate an atmosphere of dread and decay, a setting that hints at the dual and hidden nature of the people involved while giving them ample time and space to interact and let fly with each other. If you don’t mind some horror mixed in with your romance, with a splash of visceral violence on the side, I think you will love Crimson Peak.

Images © Copyright Universal Pictures

GS Rating: 4.5/5

GS Blogger: Casey Douglass

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