Today I watched Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak (2015)
Guillermo Del Toro week may be behind us, but with his new film in theaters being a nicely topical ghost story, it is high time to return to his world of fantasy. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a young American woman at the beginning of the 20th century who is swept off her feet by the darkly alluring Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston. Sharpe also has a sister played by Jessica Chastain who is delectably terrifying. The story begins in America with Edith and her father but really gets going once she leaves the nest and goes to live with the Sharpe’s at their familial manor known colloquially as Crimson Peak.
Like most of Del Toro’s horror films the supernatural elements serve to enhance the human drama. The ghosts are revealed quite early in the film instead of following the more common approach of building suspense before that particular reveal. It works here because the ghosts are not really the source of the fear, they certainly add to the atmosphere but it becomes quickly apparent that they are not the most dangerous element at work here. It fits into Del Toro’s love of monsters, he wants to show you the thing he loves, not hide it away until the last minute.
This film is a throwback to the Gothic style of horror and as such is a visually sumptuous feast for the eyes. The elements of period costume drama meld with Del Toro’s usual flair for production design to create another work typical of his filmography of incredible imagery. The haunted house that is the titular Crimson Peak is built upon red clay which is constantly wet and weeps through the walls and floorboards like blood which is a really unique visual idea. The rest of the visual language is heavily inspired by the bold colours of 70’s horror and is just incredible to look at throughout every frame.
While this film is certainly a throwback, I would not call it a love letter to the old horror as it sets out on it’s own and is quite unique and modern in it’s own way. Del Toro brings the shocking violence he perfected in Pan’s Labyrinth to the table and it is rather startling how effective and disturbing it is. He also manages to work in some Jane Austen-esque social commentary, though this element is quite subtle it does inform the strength and importance of the female characters and their place in society.
While this film does not seem to be performing well at the box office, I am quite sure it will find a cult audience that will keep it alive for quite some time. Because it is a throwback it appeals to a certain kind of person; the ones who want to see modern Gothic horror with incredible modern effects and imagery and the ones who are fans of Del Toro’s other ghost stories. The acting here is all top notch though the dialogue sometimes gets a little too pulpy. Wasikowska’s Edith is an incredibly strong female protagonist with a powerful character arc, while Hiddleston’s Sharpe isian incredibly deep contrast to her. While I had little nice to say about Charlie Hunnam when he last worked with Del Toro on Pacific Rim, there is an obviously deeper connection between him and the director here and as such he delivers a much better performance. And of course I already mentioned just how pants-wettingly frightening Jessica Chastain is, she terrifies me. If you get the chance to see this ghastly chiller on the big screen this Halloween season I highly recommend it as it is another incredible entry into Del Toro’s already illustrious horror collection. I also loved how the final ghost’s design was an homage to The Devil’s Backbone, that was just cool. 5/5