Crimson Peak was the perfect choice for Halloween at the movies. I think what I most admired about it is that director Guillermo Del Toro had a vision to make a Gothic ghost story, and did just that, in spades. It’s a sumptuous, spooky tale, beautifully rendered.
I won’t say it’s terribly original. It reminded me of many other films, most notably Rebecca, Gaslight (which I just saw previously), and Notorious. It comes from a tradition of nineteenth and early twentieth ghost stories, but nowadays that tradition has almost been snuffed out, so I imagine most people would view this film and see something they’ve never seen before.
The film is set at the turn of the 20th century. A young woman (Mia Wasikowska) is warned by the ghost of her mother to “beware Crimson Peak.” She has no idea what that means. She grows up to write ghost stories. Her father is a rich industrialist, and is visited by an English baronet (Tom Hiddleston) who is looking for investors for his clay mining machinery. But what he and his sister (Jessica Chastain) are really after are rich young women to seduce.
After Wasikowska’s father dies (quite violently) Wasikowska marries Hiddleston and moves to his dilapidated manor in Cumberland, England, which rests on top of a clay mine. The clay, red, seeps up through the ground, giving the place the nickname Crimson Peak (cue ominous chords). This house is a marvel of art direction. It recalls the classic haunted house look, with holes in the roof that allow in the weather, an old nursery full of butterflies, long corridors that allow for sprinting away from ghosts, and the aforementioned clay mine below, reachable by a creaking old elevator.
This section is very close to Rebecca, in that Wasikowska is the new wife and Chastain, creepy as all get out, is Mrs. Danvers. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Wasikowska is in trouble, even before she starts coughing up blood into her handkerchief and ghosts of other women start making oblique warnings. There is also a bit of Flowers in the Attic, if you get my drift.
I was mesmerized by the film, which most of all expresses Del Toro’s vision. The costumes, by Kate Hawley, art direction by Brandt Gordon, and cinematography by Dan Laustsen, are all top notch. The colors, in particular, are vivid and bleeding (there is numerous use of red, as one would expect). The ghosts are pretty scary (and quite grotesque–one victim got an axe in the head) and while this is more of a romance than a horror story there are few good frights.
The acting is okay–they employ a melodramatic style that fits the production–with Chastain in particular excellent as the sister-in-law from hell.
For fans of ghost stories, Crimson Peak is the best since–well, I can’t remember the last good one. Poltergeist (the original) I guess, but Crimson Peak is a different kind of ghost story.