Crimson Peak: Review

Crimson Peak: Review

Airman Xley

There’s nothing worse than going into a weekend disappointed, but I fear I must disappoint you my Dear Reader by robbing you of your excitement and anticipation for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Rest assured no one feels the anguish of an underwhelming film more than me, but the visionary director’s latest entry just fails to capture the majesty of some of his earlier works.

I’ve been criticized by film-loving friends and foes alike as setting astronomically high standards for the movies I watch. So I suppose this is a case where I expected another Pan’s Labyrinth but left the theater feeling like I had just watched David Bowie’s Labyrinth. My high expectations would also explain me being terminally single and my general social awkwardness (I’d suspect).

But don’t you fret horror-lovers. What Crimson Peak lacks in terror, story and pretty much every other important component, it more than makes up for with style and setting. That’s not to say it’s a ‘bad’ movie or flat out ‘unworthy’ of your precious cinema time, but you’ll discover for yourself that the beautiful trailer we all salivated over time and time again hid its own notorious secret—it was basically the entire movie.

Airman Xley

There’s nothing worse than going into a weekend disappointed, but I fear I must disappoint you my Dear Reader by robbing you of your excitement and anticipation for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Rest assured no one feels the anguish of an underwhelming film more than me, but the visionary director’s latest entry just fails to capture the majesty of some of his earlier works.

I’ve been criticized by film-loving friends and foes alike as setting astronomically high standards for the movies I watch. So I suppose this is a case where I expected another Pan’s Labyrinth but left the theater feeling like I had just watched David Bowie’s Labyrinth. My high expectations would also explain me being terminally single and my general social awkwardness (I’d suspect).

But don’t you fret horror-lovers. What Crimson Peak lacks in terror, story and pretty much every other important component, it more than makes up for with style and setting. That’s not to say it’s a ‘bad’ movie or flat out ‘unworthy’ of your precious cinema time, but you’ll discover for yourself that the beautiful trailer we all salivated over time and time again hid its own notorious secret—it was basically the entire movie.

Airman Xley

There’s nothing worse than going into a weekend disappointed, but I fear I must disappoint you my Dear Reader by robbing you of your excitement and anticipation for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Rest assured no one feels the anguish of an underwhelming film more than me, but the visionary director’s latest entry just fails to capture the majesty of some of his earlier works.

I’ve been criticized by film-loving friends and foes alike as setting astronomically high standards for the movies I watch. So I suppose this is a case where I expected another Pan’s Labyrinth but left the theater feeling like I had just watched David Bowie’s Labyrinth. My high expectations would also explain me being terminally single and my general social awkwardness (I’d suspect).

But don’t you fret horror-lovers. What Crimson Peak lacks in terror, story and pretty much every other important component, it more than makes up for with style and setting. That’s not to say it’s a ‘bad’ movie or flat out ‘unworthy’ of your precious cinema time, but you’ll discover for yourself that the beautiful trailer we all salivated over time and time again hid its own notorious secret—it was basically the entire movie.

Better red than dead, right? Oh, I guess that doesn’t apply here.

With the very first shot, we’re introduced to a bloodied, knife-wielding Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) looking frail and vulnerable against a snowy landscape stained crimson from an unknown source. We’re treated to a quick flashback where Edith is visited by the ghost of her then-recently-deceased mother who warns the frightened child to ‘beware Crimson Peak.’ The stage is quickly set that “ghosts are real” and that she is one of the unfortunate few who can see them.

From there we enter the elegance and grace of a Victorian-era America and are reintroduced to a bookish Edith armed with her attempt at a ghost-story manuscript instead of a knife. Thanks to some expository dialogue we learn Edith is the heiress to her father’s (Jim Beaver) sizeable fortune though she is quickly swept off her feet by the well-dressed mystery man Thomas Sharpe—much to the ire of Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), Edith’s admirer. After successfully wooing Edith, the two return to Thomas’s native England to live in the family home with his equally mysterious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

Enter Allerdale Hall AKA the Sharpe Family home and arguably the best character in the film. When Edith and Thomas arrive, the house is noticeably in ruin but still manages to cast a domineering shadow across the barren lands that make up the Sharpe Estate. While Thomas tinkers in his laboratory on mining gizmos, Edith’s worlds-apart isolation is compounded by the ghostly intimidation of her sister-in-law Lucille. And let’s face it—who wouldn’t be intimidated by a Victorian-era Jessica Chastain in a haunted house.

Remember the crimson staining the snow from the first scene? Yeah, it’s unfortunately just red clay. The kind of rarity that once made the Sharpe family exceedingly rich, but now threatens to engulf the penniless brother and sister and the virginal new bride in their dilapidated mansion. Despite warnings that there are unsafe sections of the house, Edith begins exploring and inadvertently unravels the ghastly past of Allerdale Hall. Because—you know—story progression and such.

Queue the ghosts and a few well-placed ‘thrills,’ and that’s the movie, albeit with an overly predictable narrative riddled with uninspiring dialogue and its fair share of expository monologues.

I should have known I was in for a disappointing evening when Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline did not have the film-inspired Crimson Peak Ale in stock, but once you enter the world of Crimson Peak, there’s no turning back I suppose. It’s certainly a film to keep your attention during its 119-minute runtime, but there’s little—if anything—I can say in praise that isn’t referencing Guillermo del Toro’s style of filmmaking. My heroic cinema companions can attest to the fact that the only words I could muster post-viewing were “well it certainly looked pretty.”

It’s a film rich in atmosphere and little else. Much in the spirit of his earlier works like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro envisions a world of gothic horror that harkens back to the days of German Expressionism. Once we leave the vibrancy of Victorian America, the film is awash in shadow and stark contrast. Unfortunately, it’s a visceral storytelling experience without a compelling story.

“This is a film for ardent lovers of the spectacle of film—particularly the unsung beauties of the horror genre.”

Regrettably, the first film that came to mind for me while watching Crimson Peak was the 2003 flop Cold Creek Manor. Don’t worry if this one stayed under your radar as is was the most underwhelming horror film I think I’ve ever seen. I only bring it up because it had a similar scare-level to Crimson Peak (or lack thereof) and featured more or less the same story. Of course, I’m being unnecessarily cruel even putting the two films in the same thought. Crimson Peak is a goddamn masterpiece compared to Cold Creek Manor (and frankly everything else is too). 

Some would argue that Crimson Peak isn’t a horror at all but rather a romance with horror elements in it, and I’d tend to agree. It’s very superficial by all accounts, and aside from a few predictable jump scares, it leaves you wanting for nearly everything (except style—there’s lots of that!)

The casting of the film is tough to criticize because none of the characters are particularly deep though I can say with some assurance that the film definitely lacked a del Toro favorite—Ron Perlman. It was nice to see Charlie Hunnam and Burn Gorman sneak in thanks to their work on del Toro’s Pacific Rim, but I want a goddamned foul-mouthed, gold-toed-shoes-wearing antihero to just randomly show up in a film about ghosts and ghouls. It couldn’t have made the movie any worse Guillermo…

But in all seriousness, the cast was…there. Mia Wasikowska exuded the vulnerable Mary Shelley-type character but failed to win me over as the heroine. Tom Hiddleston was well-spoken but easily forgettable. Charlie Hunnam did NOT take off his shirt this time. And Jessica Chastain…well it’s tough to say. I’ve never been particularly fond of her as an actress, and indeed that’s true of her performance in the first half of the movie. But I’ll be damned if she didn’t start to shine toward the end of the film. After you see her in the last 20 minutes or so you’ll definitely agree that her talents as a maniacal Baroness are criminally wasted. Also—the fuck?

Regrettably, this is a film I have no business critiquing by typical cinematic criteria. Del Toro films merit a unique set of standards, and regardless of whether you like the movie or not, it was still created with more passion and genuine sincerity than the vast majority of its peers.

Guillermo is a director who has a masterful gift of translating his visions onscreen, and that’s exactly what he’s done with his venture into mainstream gothic horror. He frames his shots in truly mesmerizing and passionate ways while still capturing all the unnecessarily-rich detail of his sets. This is a film for ardent lovers of the spectacle of film—particularly the unsung beauties of the horror genre. Everyone else best beware Crimson Peak and continue idolizing Guillermo as if he’s never made a questionable movie.

The Bottom Line:

“Well it at least looked pretty?” said the sober, noticeably disappointed Airman Xley.