If a Mario Bava movie married a Dario Argento film and then shacked up in Hammer Studios the result would have most likely looked a lot like Crimson Peak. For those that have seen writer/director Guillermo del Toro Spanish films they will not be surprised by this latest entry, but for those that have only seen his American offerings may find this one bit unexpected. There are no big action set pieces or rousing heroes but instead we have dark hallways, darker secrets, and of course ghosts.
Crimson Peak is your standard gothic horror murder mystery but with its visual style amped up to eleven by visionary director Guillermo del Toro, and with a star studded cast of fantastic actors at hand one can expect great things. This is a period piece that takes place in the 19th century where we are introduced to Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), whose last name is an obvious nod to the late great Peter Cushing of Hammer Films fame, and learn that she is an aspiring author who isn’t being taken seriously because she is a woman, also she can see ghosts. Edith meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and falls in love with him because he is the only male, other than her father (Jim Beaver), who seems to take her writing seriously.
When Edith’s father dies, under rather mysterious circumstances, she marries Thomas and moves back to England with him. Waiting for her is Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), Thomas’s ever devoted sister and Mrs. Danvers stand-in. Fresh love really puts on the reality blinders as Edith seems totally cool with living in the middle of nowhere with her husband and disturbing sister, and a manor house that has no roof, and is slowly sinking into the clay soil.
Crimson Peak is chock full of atmosphere, del Toro certainly excels at this, but after the third scene of Edith wandering around the dark halls after some ghastly spectre has made an appearance, we start to wonder if anything is actually going to happen. The first act of the movie has a very Jane Austen feel to it, with a bit of dark mystery thrown in, and is genuinely well handled by both the director and the actors, but once she arrives at her new home the movie begins to seriously tread water. From the trailer many may have got the impression this film will be like The Woman in Black with malevolent ghosts wreaking spectral horrors on the living, *Spoilers* this is not the case. These ghosts are more in the vein of the ones found in Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone, who try and warn or even help the protagonists. Unfortunately showing up in the middle of the night, all ghastly looking, and whispering, “Beware Crimson Peak” isn’t all that helpful.
This is a gorgeous film, one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen this year, but it really lacks substance. The dark secret is so apparent that the audience has figured everything out long before the heroine does. (Eventually she finds a trunk basically labeled “Clues”) One if the films biggest missteps is that it has Charlie Hunnam cast as a failed suitor for Edith, but his input into the story should have been cut and given to Edith herself instead having boy wonder show up to try and save the day. The film started out with her as a spunky character not content with 19th Americas idea of what a woman should or shouldn’t do, but then for the rest of the film she isn’t given much to do but wander around with candles and cough up blood.
The film does shake itself free of the gothic doldrums for the last act, but if it had gotten itself into gear a little earlier this could have been a great horror film instead just an average one. Tom Hiddleston is easily the stand-out actor in this film as the tragic Thomas Sharpe, and Jessica Chastain is clearly having a blast as the unbalanced sister, but Mia Wasikowska is sadly given a character that de Toro doesn’t seem sure of what to do with. Once again this is a gorgeous movie, and on that alone it is worth checking out, it’s just too bad it wasn’t in service of a tighter script. One last thought, this movie had such fantastic sets it really should have used more practical effects when it came to creating the ghosts.