A gorgeously macabre Gothic ghost story.
Storyteller Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited 2015 horror ‘Crimson Peak‘ unites a stellar cast and exotic period settings in a macabre tale of lunacy and lust. What it lacks in depth and surprise it makes up for in mystery and atmospheric foreboding.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young woman out of time. Pursuing dreams of literary success in a world not yet comfortable with the idea of an independent, free-thinking woman. Thankfully her successful, self-built father (a fierce Jim Beaver) is devoted to her and does everything he can to assist in her pursuit.
Then a mysterious, exciting Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives and quickly entices Edith with his romantic worldly views. Yet, all is not what it seems with Sir Thomas and his overbearing sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
As her father battles youthful resolve tragedy strikes and Edith impulsively flees with Thomas and Lucille to their country estate in England, apt referred to as “Crimson Peak”. And there ghosts from her past return with a vengeance.
del Toro presents the supernatural in his stories as more than just a source of terror; they’re also our guides through the secrets and lies of the living. The beautifully dark designs of these ghostly terrors bathe Edith’s ominous journey and help suck us into this twisted mystery.
Richly hued period designs and epically scaled sets, in particular this meticulously crafted country palace, provide the prerequisite del Toro color and tone. Mixed with a haunting musical score, precisely unsettling sonic aura, and gallery-esqe cinematography the film reaches an obsessive level of craftsmanship.
The performances also excel, most especially the passionate Hiddleston and a devilish Chastain. Period Gothic melodrama horror at its best.
Unfortunately, the paint-by-numbers trope-filled story and an abundance of gaping plot and character inconsistencies mare the illusion. I kept thinking as I watched these seemingly intelligent people show the most absurdly poor judgement that ‘Crimson Peak‘ would have made a wondrous silent film.
And while the blindly smitten Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) serves as this story’s “Jonathan Harker”, a solitary voice of reason and lone hero to “save the day”, his presence is not only irrelevant, it becomes a glaring reminder of the incredulity of these characters’ actions.
If you suspend disbelief and marvel instead in the glorious Gothic ambiance this haunting tale is charming, campy fun. It can’t come close to del Toro’s masterwork ghost story, ‘The Devil’s Backbone’. Yet, ‘Crimson Peak‘ is a grand horror escape, nonetheless.