LIAM DONOVAN checks out Guillermo del Toro’s eerie thriller ‘Crimson Peak’, on the big screen this Halloween. 

Crimson Peak is the new film from Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth), the maestro of visual cinema, and stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam. Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing is a budding American author who, after great tragedy befalls her family, is swept away by her new husband, Hiddleston’s charming Sir Thomas Sharpe, to Allerdale Hall (a.k.a. Crimson Peak) in Cumberland, England. She soon begins to realise that all is not well and that the warnings she has received throughout her young life – to “beware of Crimson Peak” – may well be proved true. Set against the backdrop of the incoming twentieth century, Cushing, a modern woman of privilege, is forced headlong into an ancient and almost anachronistically out of time world in this period piece containing elements of romance, horror and mystery.

If there is one aspect of this film which was never in doubt, it has to be del Toro’s stupendous visuals. In recent weeks we have seen incredible cinematic realisations of mountain summits, Martian surfaces, even gangland Mexico; in Crimson Peak we are brought the equally gorgeous image of the most vibrant, sentient ‘haunted house’ you could ever wish to see on a big screen. In Cushing’s New York home, del Toro is able to blend colours, autumnal browns and ochres with the striking red and black attire of the siblings Sharpe, Hiddleston and Chastain. But the real feast for the eyes arrives when we arrive at Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe’s dilapidated mansion-come-clay mine; thick red goo oozes from the rotting walls as though the building were a kind of zombified carcass left to decompose. The use of costume design to align with the retrospective symbolism of each character, the eerie deployment of chilling sound with winds whistling through the worn-down house and, of course, the gruesome, albeit computer generated ghosts make this a visually stimulating experience for any filmgoer.

The film is competently and, in some cases, brilliantly acted. While Wasikowska and Hunnam both bring warmth and humanity to their respective roles, the suspicious and sinister undertones of the siblings – Hiddleston and, in particular, Chastain – elevate the film’s spookiness to another level. Chastain’s performance, in a role unlike anything we have seen from her before, is at first one of timid awkwardness and hostility, but develops into an explosive, bravura display. Despite all of these areas of success, it is when the film finally picks up the pace in its third act that the fun really starts to begin. In what feels like the release of a trigger, or something being thrown out of the window, the film’s climax manages to put the crimson in Crimson Peak. Earning its 15 rating, the unravelling of the mystery and the escalation of the brutal, murderous violence draws the feature to a soaring, exhilarating conclusion: a finale which manages to blend the co-existing dynamics of the film into one.

The impressive third act may take the audiences by surprise – and is by all means the better for it – but its impact can’t help but feel weakened by the lack of fleshed out characters and plot points. A fairly drab opening act is followed by a purposely mysterious and murky second act, yet all the pieces don’t seem to fit together in perfect harmony. It is certainly valid to comment that this film has been marketed fairly poorly. It is not worth coming into the film expecting a pure horror flick just in time for Halloween: rather, the film is a gothic romance of the Jane Eyre ilk or, sticking in the realm of movies, Hitchcock’s Rebecca. That being said, the romantic elements of the film seem to fall flat; the chemistry between lead characters Sharpe and Cushing feels underdeveloped and alienating, derailing some of the film’s more important emotional moments.

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Crimson Peak also suffers from a lack of believability surrounding some of the film’s major characters and key revelations; we never truly understand what motivates these people to act in the way they do and once again this can be attributed to the film’s evident focus on style, with substance of story being left in the background. The subsequent effect of this causes the twists and turns we experience during the film to translate as weird, abrupt misnomers. It is also fair to say that although the ghosts are not underused in the movie, they certainly prove a little frivolous. Their impact on the plot as a whole is pretty minimal – which will serve as a disappointment to those expecting a seriously scary, ghost-driven story with a supernatural focus. While there are frightening moments in the film’s two hour duration, they become rather played out, and as such this film can’t be described as especially terrifying or shocking, at least until the third act.

Crimson Peak is an eerie thriller which, steeped in colourful and depth-filled visuals, builds to a rip-roaring finale that – after two rather muddled and somewhat confused acts – fits all of the genres this film tries to evoke together. Although the romance and horror elements of this film don’t sit well with one another throughout the film, this is still an entertaining picture and, for the pure cinema of its shooting, deserves to be seen on the big screen this Halloween.

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam.
Running Time: 119min

‘Crimson Peak’ is out now in cinemas. You can read more of Liam’s work on his blog here

CategoriesFilm Liam Donovan