Beauty and horror, in theory, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. And yet Guillermo Del Toro has made a career out of weaving these unlikely bedfellows together. Crimson Peak is him indulging his own whims and if nothing else can be said of it, this is a stunning looking film.
Telling the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a young American author who against the will of her father marries Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British baronet and leaves America to go to his family home in England. There, it quickly becomes clear that the so-called Crimson Peak, due to the red clay that stains the ground around it, has a mystery at its core and that both Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) may not be the people who Edith expected.
The red clay which gives the home its name is central to the aesthetic of this film. This old crumbling house filled with black moths has it literally seeping up through the floor and this thick viscous liquid’s link to blood is an obvious connection. However, it is not just the clay which gives this house its horror. From a distance a grand and stately home, the closer you look the more run down and derelict it is. It’s truly terrifying and is actually more unsettling than the ghosts that haunt its halls.
And yes, the ghosts are there. The opening line of the film asserts that they are real and it is something the audience must come to accept. This has an unusual effect on the horror aspects of the film. Rather than scary, Crimson Peak instead settles on creepy and becomes not a horror film, but a mystery with ghosts in it. It will surely lead some, who have come in expecting scares, disappointed, but if you are willing to forget that it has been advertised as a straight up horror. It is a captivating watch.
The central characters are all perfectly cast. Tom Hiddleston is all English charm as Sharpe but has that edge to him that makes sure you are never quite willing to trust the man. While his sister, Jessica Chastain, just radiates evil. In fact, it could almost be said that she is a little too obvious in her intentions, but Chastain’s chilly malevolence is entertaining to watch nevertheless. Finally, Wasikowska is well observed in the central role. Naive and innocent but never pathetic, she is an engaging central character who never drops into annoying.
Crimson Peak draws on many sources, whether it is Hammer horror or Del Toro’s own Spanish speaking films. It is without a doubt the best-looking film you will see this year and throughout maintains an atmosphere of creepy mystery which keeps you gripped to the screen. While it does fail as a straight up horror, it is also true that it does not appear to be trying to be one. Indeed, as is the norm for Del Toro, it is not the ghosts here which need to be feared, but the people who surround them.