Crimson Peak is the latest film from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro whose previous credits include Pans Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone and the Hell Boy Movies and this film was meant to mark his return to Horror. The film received quite a lot of advertising, mainly suggesting this was meant to be the main Halloween Movie to see this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if several people end up going to see this film this weekend as part of a special Halloween treat. Del Toro, though while he is a great director, also spawned a lot of copycats which have usually been very inferior and have also been quite blatant in how much the director wanted to be Guillermo del Toro, most inevitably in films like 2011’s Intruders. Me personally, I was kind of excited to see him back in the Directors chair because this is the first Horror film he has directed in a while, having recently directed Pacific Rim which I personally kind of enjoyed. That and the trailers were edging this up to be a good ghost story, though I was talking with someone at the last post diagnostic support group meeting and they informed me that they had heard the film had been grossly mis-advertised from the trailer, so I was having some doubt going into the film. Well, I went in and saw how it held up and I realised afterwards that this was going to be a hard film to review.
The plot of Crimson Peak focuses on aspiring writer Edith Cushing (played by Mia Wasikowska) who after the death of her father Carter Cushing (played by Jim Beaver) marries Sir Tomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston) and moves with him to Cumberland in England to live with him and his sister, Lucille (played by Jessica Chastain). However upon arrival Lucille starts seeing ghosts and realises that the house is haunted and there is a deadly secret to the estate. This is why the film is going to be hard to review, the plot section will probably be quite short for this one, because I really don’t want to spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen the film and it’s very difficult to talk about this film without giving away too much. Nevertheless I do have to talk about the plot and the one thing I will say about it is Crimson Peak is trying to be several things, a gothic horror, a gothic romance and a mystery thriller among other things, and while it doesn’t fail at any one of these, it doesn’t actually succeed at any of them either. What I mean to say is the film is semi competent at each of the elements.
The film starts off with a young Edith being visited by the ghost of her mother shortly after her passing telling her “beware of Crimson Peak”, though unfortunately most of the plot around that thing is never fully realised. For example how does Edith’s mother’s ghost know what’s going to happen there’s no explanation given. The rest of the ghost story is done pretty decently but it doesn’t entirely work, and one of the criticisms around the film is absolutely right, the ghosts really don’t serve much significance by the end of the movie and again this is a real struggle because if I go into any further detail, it will ruin the plot of the film and there is a decent plot. This isn’t really from the romance segment of the film which I think is actually the weakest portion of the film, mainly for the fact that Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston don’t have amazing chemistry, but just enough to get us through the film and maybe because it is the most poorly written part of the film. This really, at the end of the day is mostly a mystery thriller and even then, that portion of the film isn’t fully realised, mainly because I personally figured out where this was going really early on! The film borrows a lot of elements in how its mystery is solved, in fact part of the solution you can trace back to a Scooby Doo cartoon, and I’m not even joking anyone who has seen Scooby Doo on Zombie Island will figure out part of the plot from this! While none of the elements of the film are bad and the plot is not bad per say because none of the elements are fully realised the film never feels like a satisfying whole, it’s just a lot of very good ideas which don’t quite make it. That being said, I was hooked with this plot and wanted to see where it was going even though I did actually technically guess where it was going. The film tries to misdirect you but doesn’t work out half of the time, although I was caught out by one of the misdirections. There are a couple of plot holes that I noticed and I think in a re-watch I might notice a couple more, particularly considering that very early on in the film Edith’s father Carter is killed and no one ever questions either of the Sharpe siblings despite the fact that they have the most to gain out of his death.
The film’s horror elements want to build tension but it never fully succeeds, in fact I was expecting this film to have much more psychological horror, but it’s really more jump scares and the fact that they have a special effects budget in order to scare you. It feels really disheartening that Guillermo del Toro, a guy who does horror very well has kind of fallen into the trap of doing these. I keep telling people, jump scares aren’t scary, they’re startling, they are cheap, lazy and they don’t make for good horror films. I really want directors to cut this out sooner rather than later!
If there is one thing the plot does well, it’s the characters. The characters are fully realised, fully developed and do a decent job, in fact that and the actors who have been chosen to play these parts are probably what holds the film up because otherwise the film’s plot is on quite rickety foundations. This easily could have fallen in to, what credits refer to as ‘an idiot plot’ where the plot only exists because the main characters make absolutely stupid decisions. This one does not fall in to that trap for the most part, however, it does have its stupid moments every so often. You do wonder how no one questions Edith’s sudden marriage and her moving from America to England just like that. You also have to question why the Sharpes’ still stay in their Hall considering it’s crumbling to pieces. The film does provide a solution to that one, however, I wouldn’t exactly go around calling it a solution considering it doesn’t fully explain what’s going on, though to be fair, there is a solution to that one.
Guillermo del Toro clearly took a lot of influences when he made this film because there are a lot of references to classic horror films. The fact that Edith’s surname is Cushing is more than likely a reference to well know horror actor Peter Cushing and there are references to things like Frankenstein as well as some other early Victorian ghost stories as well as some ghost hunting terms, like what I believe is called Eidetic Photographs, basically it’s that one where someone sees something that is smudged on the camera and they believe it’s a ghost! You see all those documentaries on Living TV like Most Haunted that purport this rubbish!! I also got a sense that Guillermo del Toro based a lot of his ideas and the design of the house on Robert Wise’s ‘The Haunting”, the 1963 version, not the awful remake in 1999, particularly in the scene where Edith is trying to have a ghost hold her hand to state its presence.
If you are at all curious, my advise is to go into the film blind because it will mean that the plot twist can unfold slowly but surely to you. I really hope I haven’t spoilt the plot with anything that I have said in that segment.
As for the cast, that is where this film is really excellent. These guys deliver excellent performances and I think the performances do make up for a lot of the holes and the rickety foundations that the plot is based on. Mia Wasikowska makes and excellent lead as Edith and plays an interesting strong minded woman and probably one of the better female leads I have seen this year. Tom Hiddleston’s casting definitely made sense because I think they want to give similar effects to what Martin Scorcesse did on Shutter Island where to keep up our suspicions with different characters he cast every other actor as an actor well know for playing villains. But with Tom Hiddleston being given that role thanks to, in a large point him playing Loki in the Marvel Movies it would have helped the situation if they had been more ambiguous about his motives, which doesn’t help the fact that the film spells it out early on, again I won’t go into too many details to avoid spoilers. However, he does play his part relatively well and I can’t go into detail about him as it will spoil the plot and it’s really, really annoying because I want to talk about what a good job he did. Charlie Hunnam does a decent performance as the Doctor who is a friend of Edith and starts investigating the situation after Edith leaves America for England, but I feel he is rather under-utilised up until the climax of the film. The same can be said for Jim Beaver who people will recognise as Lawson in Breaking Bad and Witney Elsworth in Deadwood, however, he is not given much to do despite the fact that he does give a decent performance in service of his character. The biggest weakness is the fact that they really are the only supporting players in the film. The rest of the cast don’t really leave much of an impression on the film because they are sort of there and then they are gone. The biggest stand out performance though is Jessica Chastain as Lucille, she is creepy in this film and she completely makes the film, stealing every scene from everyone else. From all the films I have seen this year so far I really think she should be up for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars next year. She is absolutely fantastic, and honestly, I couldn’t believe it was her, because she is really playing herself against type.
If there is one thing this film does excellently, it is its cinematography and design. This is one of the best looking films I have seen in 2015 outside of an animated production. It’s absolutely fantastic and I really hope it gets a lot of nominations at the Oscars in 2016 for the technical categories. The house has an amazing gothic design and there are tons of beautiful colours throughout the house. I get a sense that this is the sort of house that Guillermo del Toro has wanted to design throughout his entire career. What’s more the ghosts have amazing designs as well, they are appropriately creepy, are very cool special effects and even though they are CGI they do blend into the background very well. These designs are so good they wouldn’t look out of place in a Silent Hill game. The film’s sound mixing and music score are also excellent and the score particularly, fits the film perfectly. This is what makes the film, and another one of the reasons that I can’t say this is a bad film. If there is one thing I don’t like about the presentation, however, it’s the over reliance of the colour red in everything. There’s red paint, red wine, the Sharpes’ make their money through mining red clay, there’s red liquid all over the house. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that this is a symbol for blood, even when it’s not actually blood. Now granted it’s not as bad as in the film version of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ where it was obnoxious, pretentious, over used and didn’t actually add anything to the film, the red is appropriately foreboding, but after a while you say ‘cut it out, we get it, some people are going to die, if some people haven’t died already’!
Crimson Peak is a very decently made movie. it’s hard to discuss it without giving away tons of the plot twist and I will say I was gripped, even though I don’t think the film fully realises what it wants to be. I can recommend it as a good gothic story though I would give a word of caution that just after you have seen it you realise that it wasn’t that good even though you are gripped whilst watching it. The thing that really keeps this thing going is the great cinematography, the design, special effects and the cast, particularly Jessica Chastain who, as I mentioned earlier, I rally want to see nominated for an Oscar next year for this role and I hope the film gets some other nominations for the technical categories. I can recommend it, though I would say, wait for this one to come out on DVD and if you are not completely sure about it, rent it first before you buy it.
Guillermo del Toro has done a decent movie, but it’s definitely not up their with his classics like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Back Bone.
So what are your thoughts on Crimson Peak guys? Are your thoughts similar to mine or do you have a difference of opinion? Lets get a debate going in the comments section. Please leave something in the comments. This week my question is:
“Which film do you prefer, Pans Labyrinth or The Devil’s Back Bone and why”?
I look forward to hearing some answers on that one.
Well October is nearly over so lets move into November, but before I start on award season I am going to be reviewing the latest film from Mr Bond, James Bond. On 6 November I will publish my review of “Spectre”.
Thanks for reading my review and I hope you had a good Halloween if you are reading this after Halloween. If you are reading it before stick on a good horror movie, Nostalgia Critic gave 11 recommendations last year that I can easily recommend. Track one of them down, I will leave a link to the video below.
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