Movie Review: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak benefits from the best and worse of its creator – production design offers Gothic visuals that is uniquely Guillermo Del Toro, but its thickly painted over predictable generic twists and empty storytelling.

When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak.

Mia Wasikowska and a bunch of candles star in Guillermo Del Toro’s new rendition of old things with dark histories.

Happy to show his expertise, production design is the highlight of the movie. From the props to the set pieces, everything here is wonderfully detailed to immerse the audience in the story. The main star is Allerdale Hall, a Victorian Gothic mansion filled with creepy quirks – a hole in the roof, sinking floorboards that bleed of red clay and other details that I can’t mention for they will spoil you. The three story house doesn’t just look like its crumbling, it’s a living yet rotting dying thing on top of a hill.

While the mansion speaks of dark secrets, cinematography builds an ominous atmosphere. England is the complete opposite of bright gold America with its bleak colors and somber tones. Camerawork and cross-lighting combines with sound design and musical score to build tension. In one scene, Lucille feeds a sickly Edith on the bed, the sound of her spoon scraping against the edge of a porcelain bowl shrilling of foreboding.

Crimson Peak relies mostly on practical effects, delivering distinct imagery that is uniquely Guillermo del Toro. It’s a homage to classic ghost stories complete with a fade to black effect and book cover illustration. Visually the movie benefits from his strengths, Allerdale Hall is indeed something between desire and darkness, mystery and madness. On the other hand, the movie is dragged down by his weaknesses.

Crimson Peak is undeniably a technical masterpiece but there isn’t much to be said about the predictable plot. Like in Don’t be Afraid the Dark, the movie spoils the audience and starts with the best of its scares. The ghosts are reminiscent of del Toro’s work in The Devil’s Backbone and looks unique but they’re appearance is unnecessary. More importantly, the movie breaks its own logic as the dead freely ghost around unless its too convenient for the narrative.

Crimson Peak isn’t a ghost story but rather a story that happens to have ghosts in it. The movie’s twist isn’t as gripping as it thinks it is because the real villain is a trope and the dark secrets of Allerdale Hall are tacked on.

The cast does a good job but their characters are flat. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska are better fit for their roles than Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Stone, but there isn’t much to care about them. Hiddleston manages to elevate his role through acting, but he’s an emotionally stunted teenager for some glossed over reason. Wasikowska is decent, but its hard to believe that a proto-feminist would be seduced by a single dance of waltz. Jessica Chastain is already one-dimensional and her failure to channel insecurity and portray a convincing smolder, rather than just a stiff poker face, didn’t help. The rest of the cast are forgettable.

As you would expect from a Guillermo del Toro movie, bursts of bloody action explodes towards the end. It’s a wonderful sequence that is wasted because there isn’t anything compelling to invest in.

Crimson Peak is a perfectly creepy atmospheric movie with high production value but it isn’t as morally expansive and wildly original as Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro sets aside the tools of his trade – precocious children relocated to haunted places set against a turbulent back drop – for a romance ghost story but fails to make it emotionally engaging instead of just visually arresting. Often in his works, the spooky elements get in the way of storytelling.

The supernatural elements could have been used to shed light into the family history of the Sharpes, which in turn would have given the plot some depth. A perfectly casted antagonist with the talent to elevate a hate-to-love role could have made the third act more thrilling to watch. Sadly, the movie is too preoccupied of trying to be scary that it fails to do so.

Crimson Peak is a metaphor for its own movie – a spooky place filled with unique Gothic visuals and an eerie atmosphere that gets underneath your skin, but it’s also empty and forgettable as soon as the novelty wears off.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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