Now available on DVD and online, we offer our take on director Guillermo del Toro’s latest romantic horror mystery.
At a press conference in Los Angeles, shortly before the release of his much-anticipated Crimson Peak, director Guillermo del Toro emphasized the importance and fluidity of the horror genre. For del Toro, the horror genre is not merely a simple way to shock and scare viewers with blood, guts, murderers, and the supernatural. Instead, the power and potential of the horror film lies in its ability to represent the everyday, visceral fears of viewers. Horror is not so much an endpoint, but a tool with which one can present an affecting story. Once you strip down the horrific and stylistic aesthetics of del Toro’s films like Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth, what you are left with is an intimately human experience. Without the deaths, the ghosts, and the fantastical, what is left is a story of trauma, mourning, and uncertainty.
This faith in the horror genre is echoed by the hopeful, gothic writer Edith (Mia Wasikowska) within the first minutes of del Toro’s gorgeous 2015 gothic horror film Crimson Peak. As a young girl, Edith experienced her own trauma with the death of her mother. Unable to truly mourn, Edith was haunted by her mother’s ghost which came to her in the night to give her a simple, but ominous warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Now a young woman, Edith weaves her independent nature and supernatural encounters with the dead into her stories. Against the criticisms of potential publishers, Edith asserts that the ghosts in her tales are metaphors. And while Edith consciously excludes love narratives from her tales, she is unable to exclude them from her own life once the charming and handsome English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives in America to conduct business with Edith’s wealthy father (Jim Beaver). The business transaction goes sour. But Edith at Thomas’ love grows strong. After the mysterious murder of her father, Edith marries Thomas and goes to live in his English country estate with him and his harsh, cold sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). Isolated in a decrepit mansion that is slowly sinking into the oozing, red clay underneath its foundation, Edith is plagued by a mysterious sickness and dreadful ghosts that are in no way metaphorical.
Del Toro’s most obvious talent is his ability to create visceral, lush, fantastical worlds that both unnerve and enthrall viewers. Each scene in Crimson Peak is masterfully crafted and shot. The gothic architecture, deep reds, and mesmerizing terrifying ghosts harken back to 19th century gothic literature. However, these aspects are shot with del Toro’s modern craftsmanship. He seamlessly transitions from the conservative, classic-ness of his Victorian era subjects to scenes of brutal violence. The effect is hard-hitting and disturbing. By the film’s conclusion, the beautiful Sharpe estate is transformed into a gory haunted house complete with Wasikowska and Chastain in blood soaked, Victorian gowns.
It is no surprise that del Toro is able to create a beautiful set. One needs to view only shots of his previous works (specifically Pan’s Labyrinth) to realize his ingenuity for creating elaborate worlds on-screen. And while at times the decadence and beauty of del Toro’s sets do take away from the performances of the actors in Crimson Peak, it is impossible to discount the film. The storyline is thin compared to del Toro’s other works. The actors can never seem to match the power of the worlds that they are put into. Similarly, del Toro’s preoccupation for the worlds around his characters rather than his actual characters leads to some pacing issues in regards to character development. Yet, despite these flaws, Crimson Peak is thoroughly enjoyable. While it works less on the level of a character-driven drama, it thrives in creating one of the most visually enthralling, and delightfully gory, movie-going experiences in recent memory.
Review: Alex Schultz