Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, some Sexual Content and brief Strong Language
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Written by: Guillermo Del Toro & Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Emily Coutts & Leslie Hope
CRIMSON PEAK is being touted as a scarefest that’s full of ghosts, gore, and ghoulish delights. Marketing has suggested that moviegoers had best prepare themselves for something seriously terrifying. However, that’s slightly misleading seeing as Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film hearkens back to a more classical era of horror. Del Toro himself has described the film as more of a gothic romance than a straight-up horror film. The film is a slow-burning tale of love and bloody secrets. I think the best possible description that I could give CRIMSON PEAK is that this film feels like Edgar Allan Poe and Jane Austen wrote a story together and then Guillermo Del Toro filmed it. That should give you a general idea of what to expect when walking into the theater for this one.
Edith Cushing is a young author and a bit of a social outcast among her peers. She’s an outspoken woman with strong opinions, a creative imagination, and the psychic ability to see ghosts. Those first two qualities gain her the admiration of Sir Thomas Sharpe, a businessman visiting from England. One thing leads to another and the two are soon joined together in holy matrimony. Sharpe then whisks Edith away to his isolated crumbling estate. The only other resident of the massive mansion is Sharpe’s strange sister, Lucille. As wonderful as her married life may seem, Edith suspects that Thomas and Lucille are hiding dark secrets. These fears are only strengthened when Edith begins to have run-ins with ghostly apparitions that seem to be stemming from the Sharpe household. Could these spirits have it out for Edith or are they trying to warn her of a greater danger?
Guillermo Del Toro sure knows how to shoot a scene and he transforms CRIMSON PEAK into an overall gorgeous film. You could pause any scene of this movie and frame that still image as a work of art. It’s that visually stunning and amazing to look at. Needless to say that spooky atmosphere is at a definite all-time high in this film. The set design is insane and you feel that the Sharpe estate is a very real location, despite it being impossibly large and decrepit. Another addition to the scenery is constant red clay on the ground, which gives the illusion that the characters are walking on fresh blood at various points in the film.
Speaking of which, Del Toro has a slow build to his classical screenplay (which hearkens back to an era of Hollywood horror when jump scares weren’t needed every five minutes), but never neglects to embrace his R rating. He fought tooth and nail to get his R-rated horror film and we see evidence of that in some of the bloodier scenes. It’s not as if the movie is a gorefest, far from it, but we do get messy moments that easily earned the rating on violence alone. The ghosts themselves look creepy as hell. I’m usually against the use of CGI for roles that could be filled by actual performers, but I loved how Del Toro created these contorting, decayed spirits. Each ghost had a unique look and there are a number of really scary sequences that got big reactions out of me.
As far as the performances go, there are four main cast members to speak of. Mia Wasikowska fills the role of Edith Cushing well. She plays her protagonist as a smart woman with a slightly naïve romantic side. However, she has enough brains to know when something strange might be going on behind her back. Charlie Hunnam is mostly swiped to the sidelines, but makes a strong impression as a doctor with the hots for Edith. Tom Hiddleston (mainly known for playing Loki and being the sexiest man alive for women everywhere) disappears into the charming Thomas Sharpe. Hiddleston plays the character as a charismatic romantic lead with a few skeletons in his closet. He also has really terrific chemistry with Wasikowska, especially during the romantic scenes in the first act. Arguably, the best performance comes out of Jessica Chastain as the mysterious Lucille Sharpe. Chastain’s Lucille comes off like a frightening force to be reckoned with as she can be charming and funny during some moments, while intense and scary during the very next scene.
Horror fans who go into CRIMSON PEAK expecting non-stop terror and gore might leave utterly disappointed. However, viewers who dig a slow-burn, old-school approach to their scary stories will find a whole lot to love here. I don’t have a single complaint with this entire film. The imagery is phenomenal, the story is well-written (even when you have a good idea where it might be going), the scares are…well, scary and the film has a gothic horror approach that we rarely see taken in modern horror these days. CRIMSON PEAK isn’t simply a ghost story. As Edith says early on when describing one of her books, it’s a story that happens to have ghosts in it.