Film Review: Crimson Peak

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Mia Wasikowska; Jessica Chastain; Tom Hiddleston


Crimson Peak

By Jenna Robertson

Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro’s first directorial venture since 2013’s sci-fi blockbuster, Pacific Rim. Described by Del Toro himself as a “Gothic romance”, it is, in terms of genre, a far cry from its predecessor. However, Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak share one particular flaw– neither are anything like Pan’s Labyrinth.

In a vague time-period around the early 20th century, our spirited heroine Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) lives contently with her wealthy father, unfulfilled literary ambitions, and the image of her dead, decomposing mother haunting her childhood. So far, so Gothic. The romance element is provided by the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), with whom Edith becomes involved, much to the chagrin of her father. (Sadly, it is at this point that Crimson Peak becomes tedious, like a bad parody of a Bronte novel). For viewers still invested, the story eventually progresses, and Edith, now Mrs. Sharpe, moves into Crimson Peak with her creepy husband and his equally creepy sister, Lucille (Chastain). From there, the horror element comes into play, and Del Toro finally has the opportunity to do what he does best.

Crimson Peak, however, is not Del Toro’s best.

The film is essentially at odds with itself in terms of which genre it belongs to. It feels, initially, like a period drama – a Gothic one, albeit – with emphasis on Edith’s struggle to pursue a career and her forbidden romance. When events take a slightly darker turn, it almost crosses into thriller territory, and when the action moves to Crimson Peak, the ultimate haunted house, it settles down to become a horror. A film does not necessarily have to be consistent in tone to be enjoyable, but Crimson Peak’s identity crisis is unsettling. Is it a thought provoking exploration of the treatment of women at the turn of the 19th Century, or is it simply a gory horror, poking fun at itself with hackneyed tropes? It’s neither of these. Ultimately, it is both confused and confusing.

Visually, Crimson Peak is stunning. Every detail, from the vast, eerie emptiness of the eponymous house to the portentous hand-shaped belt worn by Edith while the Sharpes, looking like long, lost members of the Addams family, make plans for her future. The ghosts, too, are perfect. Del Toro’s ghosts are actually ghosts. That is to say, they are skeletal, transparent and genuinely frightening, they ooze some kind of ectoplasm, and they appear on screen for over three seconds, which is more than can be said of the spirits in the majority of modern horror films.
Crimson Peak is among a plethora of ‘scary’ films released, as always, at this time of year, just in time for Halloween. It certainly stands out among its competition, offering a more traditional, strangely refreshing interpretation of horror. But this is not enough to make the film enjoyable. Edith’s deceased mother crawls out from the ghostly underworld for good reason; “Beware of Crimson Peak,” she hisses. Heed her advice, cinemagoers.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);