Review: Guillermo del Toro's 'Crimson Peak' a Visual Feast, Little Else
by Jeremy Kirk
October 16, 2015
There's very little question about Guillermo del Toro's prowess as a visionary storyteller. Whether about a demonic superhero and the strange creatures he fights or a gothic love story with supernatural tones, the director's films are wall-to-wall detail. The images he creates are gorgeous, his films the kind where every shot is an immaculate glimpse into del Toro's artistic and unique eye. This is the case, as well, with the filmmaker's latest menagerie of macabre madness and supernatural scares. Crimson Peak brings with it the same, visual detail for which the director has become known. The story plays out in basic, predictable form, but it's never enough to hold back the visual masterpiece del Toro once again delivers.
At the center of the ghost-laden, love story is Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a young writer of supernatural stories who likens herself to Mary Shelley above other, female writers of the time. She believes she has the unique gift of being able to see the ghostly apparitions about which she writes, most notably her long-dead mother. She is given the strange warning about Crimson Peak at a very young age and doesn't understand the warning's significance until she soon meets the mysterious but charming Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Edith and Thomas strike a flame in one another the moment they meet, displeasure in the romance from Edith's father (Jim Beaver) be damned.
It isn't long before tragedy fills Edith's life once again, and the newly orphaned girl chooses to marry Thomas and accompany him and his sister to their ancestral home of Allerdale Hall in England. It sits atop a mound of crimson-colored clay, a detail which gives the area its unofficial and foreboding name, but it's the angry spirits with which Edith must contend nightly that has her believing there is something more secret and dangerous to the house, and the brother-and-sister, than she initially believed.
Co-written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, Crimson Peak takes its time getting to its menacing, eponymous location. The relationship between Edith and Thomas sits at the center of the film's early ordeals, both commonly dramatic and brutally violent alike. The ghosts who visit Edith are horrifically designed, the kind of otherworldly creatures you would expect to find in a del Toro film, but the structure of Crimson Peak reflects more a love story than a haunted house tale of horror. The director, himself, has stated the film isn't really a horror film but more a romantic story with supernatural elements.
That isn't stopping del Toro's detail from bleeding through every moment of the film. As with his prior works, the production design is ornately defined, the smallest touches of each shot creeping towards the corners of every frame. You almost forgive the overabundance of computer-generated imagery, it's all so beautiful and simply adds to the surreal journey Edith is taking. Those apparitions, though, lose their weight in the digital execution, and Crimson Peak's story has a difficult time bringing its dangers to the forefront. You know the ghosts are supposed to be scary. They're ghosts, after all, but you get the sense del Toro is falling back on his tried-and-true topic of humans being far more nefarious than any ectoplasmic anomaly. The mystery surrounding those enigmatic humans isn't difficult to sort out, either, probably the biggest misstep Crimson Peak takes.
It has something to do with how spot-on Chastain chooses to play the eccentric Lucille. Her performance leaves little nuance, but the obviousness of her character's nature doesn't stop the actress from dropping an insane amount of energy. Chastain's is the only performance in Crimson Peak that matches the ridiculous detail at work throughout the rest of the film. Wasikowska and Hiddleston are fine as the troubled lovers. Charlie Hunnam makes a commendable appearance as another of Edith's suitors, one whose suspicions of her new "family" has him making the journey to the accursed place. Everyone rides the ups and downs of the characters' emotions at an obvious tick, the kind of solid, cast performance that mostly goes unnoticed. Chastain, on the other hand, is truly awesome in the moments when she's unleashed herself. Again, as apparent as those acting choices may be, it doesn't make it any less a treat watching her perform.
The same could be said on the whole about Crimson Peak. The walls are elegantly crafted, the hallways and staircases brought to life with stunning imagery. Under the surface, though, there isn't much to find, and the sum of its parts, beautiful as they may be, leaves the viewer desperately wishing for more. At the very least, you expect del Toro's eye for detail to trickle down into the film's story, but Crimson Peak rests on the laurels of being an astonishing feast for the eyes with little to feed the brain.