With Halloween around the corner, along with all the classic holiday favorites, everyone will be heading to the local multiplexes for new annual offerings. One of the more notable is Crimson Peak from Guillermo Del Toro. Ever since Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, Del Toro has found himself in the realm of action as opposed to the fantasy-horror films that made him a household name, mainly due to his attention being diverted by The Hobbit trilogy that Peter Jackson ultimately took over. Clearly inspired by classic haunted house mysteries of horror’s golden age, as well as classic romantic literature, the film is as much a gothic romance as it is a mystery thriller… and unfortunately, the film walks a wildly uneven tightrope because of it.
If there’s one thing that cannot be denied about Crimson Peak, it’s that the film owes Del Toro much thanks for his immaculate technical eyes and ears. The film particularly becomes production designer Tom Sanders’ movie, with the setting of the film being positioned within a lived in and decaying mansion atop a cold and windy mountain, whose foundations on clay pits turn its winter snow red as blood, setting a foreboding yet oddly beautiful atmosphere and unique visual identity to the setting, and the dim photography lit by the glowing candles and moonlight, coupled with Randy Thom’s quite literally “breathy” sound work, establish the house as just as much a character as the human cast. With Del Toro also making effective use out of creepy effects work, the aesthetics of the film thoroughly draw you into the mystery at play, and adequately scare the viewer with its eerie atmosphere.
However, Del Toro seems so intent on perfecting every inch of his visual storytelling that he forgets to put as much effort into the writing. Showing loving roots derived from classic horror the likes of Hammer and 1963's The Haunting, and even modern ghost stories like The Others, as well as the romantic links of novels such as Jane Eyre, Del Toro weaves all of them into an often jarring mixture of elements that barely hold together at the seams. Its romance and violence often clash with each other, and despite the mansion itself providing rock solid mystery as we discover more and more of its maze-like geography, the actual writing side is much more easily predictable. The final twenty-five minutes especially walk an inconsistent line between brilliant and laughable, but at least provide some solid entertainment after much build up.
The performances are also something of a mixed bag. I adore Mia Wasikowska as an actress, and though the character gives her bare bones material to work with, the performance is fittingly vulnerable and intrigued as she makes new revelations of the unfolding mystery. Tom Hiddleston makes for an at once chilling and alluring gentleman with fascinating mystery and enigmatic agendas. But that’s more than can be said for Jessica Chastain, whose turn as Hiddleston’s cold and unstable sister eventually throws all promise out the window once she becomes a laughable imitation of Alex Forrest.
And that’s all I really have to say about it. That’s just how flat Crimson Peak is as a film. I’ve nothing but admiration for Del Toro’s unmatched skill in technical proficiency, but they deserve a script that actually has anything in the way of substance. At the very least, it does provide momentary thrills while you’re watching it, but it doesn’t have much else in the way of lasting impact.
*** / *****