Movie Review: Crimson Peak

Fewer frights but plenty of over-the-top grandeur, trauma and romance in del Toro's latest Gothic tale.

click to enlarge LOVERS' WALTZ: Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska. - legendary pictures
legendary pictures
LOVERS' WALTZ: Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska.

Crimson Peak
Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro. Stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain.
Review: 3 stars out of 5
Now playing at local theaters.

If you grew up watching Creature Feature on WTOG-Ch. 44, have read a good number of Poe stories and Victorian novels, you might be a little charmed by the camp and grandeur of Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro's latest Gothic romance. If you take your horror seriously, you might want to opt for another of this month's Halloween releases.

del Toro, an unabashed lover of gore and sucker for vintage horror, indulges in both for Crimson Peak. As with The Devil's Backbone, arguably his best film of all time (well, my personal favorite), dT's newest grazes the horror genre without fully sinking its teeth into it — the film isn't that scary overall. Crimson Peak's specters are less spooky than tragic, but del Toro throws all the subtlety and psychological tension of his early work like Backbone out the gabled window. Crimson Peak, instead, is brimming with cartoony melodrama and graphic death scenes. 

The New York Times aptly describes CP as a "Henry James tale filtered through the lurid sensibilities of the Italian giallo maestro Mario Bava." Like the author's novels, Crimson Peak takes us into the homes and parties of late 19th century high society. The costumes and lush cinematography are on par with Scorsese's Oscar-winning adaptation The Age of Innocence (except for some tacky, overly animated shots of the mansion). 

Other comparisons come to mind. Crimson Peak's eccentric siblings (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) and their crumbling mansion recall Poe's Fall of the House of Usher; and the film's central love story has shades of old Gothic soap operas like Dark Shadows — except instead of vampires, splotchy ghosts appear as reanimated decomposed corpses. 

del Toro once again imbues themes of lost innocence and childhood tragedy, a calling card of his best films. CP's poignant tale follows reserved Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), whose mother died at a young age, and pulls back the veil between her daughter and the afterworld so she can pay the occasional creepy visit to dispense warnings like "Beware of Crimson Peak!" Of course, she makes sense of the admonition too late. The sympathetic protagonist who's otherwise grounded and reserved — a budding Mary Shelley who aspires to write about metaphorical spirits — falls for a visiting baronet (Middleston) who's both a charlatan and inventor in earnest and whisks her to a cold, depressing estate in the U.K.

Sharpe's eccentric, psychopathic sister (Chastain) has been aiding Tom's pursuits and is revealed as a horrible influence on her little brother with her homicidal tendencies. dT provides some pathos with the wayward siblings, which adds a little dimension to the film, but their relationship and story could have been explored further. Hiddleston's Sharpe is a mix of hero and antagonist, a contradiction some may enjoy and others may find confusing or off-putting.

Kudos to del Toro for Crimson Peak's strong female leads in Waskiowska and Chastain. It's not often we see two women fighting on the roof in a climactic scene. The film's central players turn in commendable performances.

Crimson Peak's lavish costumes, scenery, rich colors and symbolic overtures — like its blood-colored oil oozing from the ground — delight like trick or treat candy. Just don't go into it craving something more substantial.


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