Guillermo del Torro is a master storyteller, which is evident through all the many films he’s written from Pan’s Labyrinth, to The Devil’s Backbone, to The Hobbit Trilogy. His approach to suspense, action, horror, and dark fantasy is undeniably clever – which is why he has such a following by fans and critics alike. With Crimson Peak he dives head first into a genre that has been around for ages and left untapped for years: gothic, romantic, supernatural mystery. In true del Torro fashion, Crimson Peak is everything you miss from the days of classic, spooky mysteries – with a dash of extreme violence, humor, and dark revelations to keep the style feeling fresh.
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. From the imagination of director Guillermo del Toro comes a supernatural mystery starring Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam (C) Universal
Let me start by saying if you are looking for a jump-scare, gross-out, make-you-drop-your-popcorn horror flick, this is not it. This time of year is when we see more than enough of these kinds of movies, much to my exasperation. Don’t get me wrong, I love those films as much as the next person, but the last 10+ years has been completely oversaturated with the likes of Paranormal Activity, Saw, and Hostel to name a few. Crimson Peak shows you its blueprints early in the film, revealing that this is not a ghost story – this is a story with ghosts in it.
Crimson Peak is a spooky, romantic mystery for adults – well, at least for those who have patience to allow a story to develop and a love for attention to detail. If you let it, Crimson Peak will develop into a completely enthralling experience with entirely satisfying conclusions. Dark humor is interjected with precision to keep the script pulpy, but not silly. The violence is shockingly graphic, but not overwhelming. The score is dark and moody, but ultimately playful. As a cinephile, this film is right up my alley – it checks all my favorite boxes, thus demanding my respect and delighting me as a critic. It is very clear that del Torro was out to make an homage to the old-school thrillers of yesteryear, drawing from the likes of Rebecca (1940), The Haunting (1963), Hitchcock, and Vincent Price.
While its not entirely unpredictable, the events that take place are still completely disturbing – and del Torro throws a little extra unexpected flair onto themes that we’ve seen before from similar motion pictures. The three leads were an excellent choice, with Chastain showing a new side of her acting, Hiddleston being as smooth and conflicted as ever, and Wasikowska effortlessly portraying the brainy, innocent victim. It’s cliched to say this, but the house (“Allerdale Hall”) plays just as big a role as the characters do. It reminds me of The Amityville Horror (1979) house, or the manor from 1963’s The Haunting. However, Allerdale Hall is more than a character, it’s like an alternate universe all of its own. It sucks you and the characters into a terrifying wonderland of mystery and intrigue where things both natural and supernatural lurk around corners and in the dark shadows.
As if the performances and story weren’t enough, the most winning aspects are the visuals and set designs. This is pretty typical for del Torro, however nothing about the visuals in Crimson Peak are ‘typical’. The art direction, production design, and cinematography employed here are nothing short of staggering. The house feels like one cohesive set, snow falls like fairy dust, the walls bleed red clay. Every aspect is exquisitely handled without feeling overworked. The way the ghosts are portrayed is a little less than convincing, though. They feel more ‘Halloween-y’ than realistic. Ultimately this is fine because, again, this is a story with ghosts in it – not the other way around.
Crimson Peak incredibly addictive, stunning, beautiful, macabre, and completely chilling. While paying homage to classic supernatural mysteries it is completely original. This will probably bore the average young adult who’d rather be seeing the 12th installment of Saw but, for those who require a bit more from their movie-going experience, I recommend seeing this in the IMAX theater near you.
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