I could sense a deep fondness for the material while watching Crimson Peak. It always delights me to see a filmmaker care so deeply for his craft, it makes me forget the underlying reason any film gets made: to make money. It’s also a fairly uncommon thing to see. For every Guillermo del Toro, there are three Michael Bay’s out there making movies to please the general audience but never challenging or touching them any more deeply than mildly entertaining them for a couple hours. After some research, I realized Crimson Peak is a film that has been in the works for quite some time and Del Toro finally has his chance. He doesn’t want to disappoint and he doesn’t. This isn’t the kind of movie you forget about the moment you walk out of the theater; it’s not a diversion. Even if you end up disliking the film, you’ll find yourself challenged by its themes and outstanding visuals. Those are the kinds of movies that need to be the norm.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, a young writer and daughter to a wealthy, self-made industrialist. In the opening scene we see her standing in the midst of a snowstorm, the landscape as white as the equally beautiful white dress she is wearing, except for the few streaks of blood splattered across. In a voice-over she says, “Ghosts are real, that much I know. I’ve seen them all my life.” I’m a hard skeptic when it comes to this stuff, but I truly believed in her statement here, especially after I witnessed what unfolded on-screen. Del Toro’s craft is as genuine as it is stunning. I bet he truly believes in ghosts.
Edith soon meets ambitious inventor Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who falls for Edith, but is disliked by Edith’s father and is blackmailed into leaving the country until Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered by an “unknown” assailant. Sharpe, along with his sister (Jessica Chastain), still move back to their home country of England, but bring Edith along so she and Sharpe can be married. They move into the Sharpe family home where strange things begin to occur.. These strange things, of course, do involve ghosts, but the deceased spirits play a much smaller role than the advertisment’s have led us to assume. This is not a ghost story, but a story with a few ghosts in it. Edith couldn’t have said it better when explaining the essence of the novel she is writing, also called “Crimson Peak.”
Most of the film takes place within and around Allerdale Hall, the home for which the characters reside. It’s a crumbling mansion, but it is not a foul-looking one. The exterior is towering and ominous; the exact type of building you’d imagine being haunted. The interior is defined and sharp, with a grand staircase to your left as you walk in and a large fireplace straight ahead that seems to always be burning. There is a hole in the ceiling that allows snow and leaves to fall in and the red clay within the ground tends to stain the floor and walls from time to time, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue with the residences. All of this is not necessarily for the story or plot, but for the look and feel. Crimson Peak creates a sensation unlike any other movie before and it’s all done with its increasingly unique visuals. Sure, Wasikowska, Hiddleston and, primarily Chastain, who gives a performance of deep scarring and vengeance, act beautifully within their victorian setting, however the true stars are cinematographer Dan Lausten, art director Brandt Gordon and costume designer Kate Hawley who manage to construct a world all of its own; one that you’d be lucky to visit in your dreams. The most impressive aspect though is that it never threatens to eat up the characters or story, emphasizing it instead, almost praising it.
The story is an interesting one, albeit one that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s part horror film, part psychological drama and part romance, and they don’t always mesh perfectly. The different events in the film seem to reflect the difficulties Edith has in publishing her novel. The publisher says she needs to add in a love story and that’s what Del Toro has attempted, and much like with Edith’s situation, it proves difficult. There are slow moments within the film, but any moment of weakness within the dialogue or plotting is saved by the sweeping imagery. Have I praised the visuals enough? No, not even close.
Crimson Peak is the most beautiful film of the year without a doubt. Guillermo Del Toro has always had an eye for grand visuals, but he has outdone himself here. Crimson Peak is a film that doesn’t only please the eye, but stimulates it. It’s images are so packed with beautifully detailed set pieces and sceneries that I found myself wishing it would pause for a moment so I could process it all. Every frame is gorgeous and deeply affecting, and that in and of itself is a miracle.