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Crimson Peak – Movie Review

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Crimson Peak – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

With Pan’s Labyrinth and now Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro seems intent on not using the usual spooky movie tropes. For those who want a break from irritating jump-scares, del Toro presents a sanctuary for them. Using gothic romances and Hammer horror films as his primary inspirations, he has crafted a creepy period piece that lets mood and tone affect how we get scared by it. This is mostly about the people, rather than the ghosts that haunt a mansion falling to pieces. Crimson Peak feels a lot like a book that was written during the late 19th century and only recently unearthed so del Toro can bring it to the screen.

Crimson Peak is primarily a visual film, with del Toro filling the screen with striking imagery and his team’s attention to detail on the sets and costumes is outstanding. This is normally the sort of production standards applied to a historical drama and it works as a solid throwback to the Hammer horror films that made their name on adaptations of gothic literature. The influences are so strong, the main character Edith Cushing is compared to Jane Austen and Mary Shelley at one point. Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins’s screenplay makes it fairly obvious from the beginning who the main antagonist will be, but that’s not a flaw. It rather allows us to become more curious about the steps the story will take. As the film goes on, things get more and more menacing.

Del Toro seems more intent on letting atmosphere create scares. One doesn’t know whether Edith is being watched and what sneaky deed Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is plotting. Throughout Crimson Peak, there’s a lot of attention paid to the red clay seeping from the floors. What seems like obvious symbolism eventually serves to tell a much larger history behind the house. The lighting and screen transitions are almost like trickery in how they force the audience to look at something and make us think about its role in the story. The third act is when del Toro truly unleashes his inner Hammer fanboy and gives us a finale that’s both bloody and strangely beautiful.

The actors are also aware of what kind of film they’re in and is clear del Toro was able to fashion their performances to match exactly what he had on the page. Mia Wasikowska continues the promise she displayed early in her career in Alice in Wonderland with a similar take on somebody also drawn into a messy otherworldly rabbit hole. Jessica Chastain is having a fun time, gleefully playing up a very conniving role. It’s the sort of part that Eva Green would have relished performing, but Chastain takes full advantage of the chance to unwind. Tom Hiddleston switches on the charm as Edith’s new husband, though right from his introduction, one can tell he has something sinister to hide. However, as stated before, one gets the feeling this was intentional on del Toro’s part.

In addition to Hammer horror films, Crimson Peak also brings to mind the work of Tim Burton, particularly his clever and spooky adaptation of Sleepy Hollow. That’s certainly a good director to be compared to and del Toro definitely occupies a similar space of being allowed to bring his out-there visions to life, while also showing his inspirations. If Burton obviously loves The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Guillermo del Toro shows a clear admiration for Horror of Dracula and other classic titles starring Peter Cushing (Edith’s surname is no coincidence). With its use of bright red colours, creepy imagery and beautiful gothic architecture, Crimson Peak absolutely deserves to be compared to those.

Stefan Ellison

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