Thursday, 29 October 2015

Film Review: Crimson Peak

Director: Gulliermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain

Gulliermo del Toro had been the original director slated to helm The Hobbit. When that film series floundered, I was left with a feeling of what might have been. Gulliermo del Toro had previously directed a truly great film, Pan's Labyrinth, which consistently hits many a film fan's top 100 list. It is an even more impressive feat considering the film is not in English, but Spanish.

Since I first heard about Crimson Peak, I was excited for its release. Gothic horror? Yes. Haunted House? You bet. Great cast? Of course. What could go wrong?

Well, the first thing to say about the film is that it is a truly visual masterpiece. The attention to detail of Victorian England, and the same period in the US, was superbly executed. del Toro has a great eye for detail. The buildings, the street scenes, the costumes all deserve a special mention.

My bet is that Crimson Peak will score many an award next year for art direction, special effects, costume design and photography.

The overall story is about a warning from Edith Cushing's (Mia Wasikowska) dead mother, who in ghost form warns the girl not to visit Crimson Peak. She does not know what it means, but she never forgot the warning. The introduction of the ghost, through the jumpy scenes through a mirror, to a door banging shut, may seem formulaic, but they are not - it's well done and gets the audience jumping early!

Edith's father is a rich man, and when Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) approaches him for investment into a digging project, Mr Cushing (in a nod to horror great Peter Cushing) is less than impressed with the oh so English Baron.

Sharpe had previously failed to get investment for his project, and though Cushing doesn't know it, he really is the last chance for the young Baron.

Cushing promptly turns him down. Things are complicated further with Sharpe's interest in Edith, who is a writer of ghost stories, though yet to be a published one. When he suggests it is a good story, she becomes endeared to him, and he suggests to her father that he is in love with her.

Strike two for Sharpe. Cushing believes the young Baron to be a cad, a charlatan, and much worse.
He orders Sharpe to break his daughter's heart, and he will pay him to get out of her life. It's a rather sad scene when Sharpe tells Edith that her work is childish and amateur.

Of course, he really loves her, and the next day, when Mr Cushing is murdered (in a very brutal scene that will shock some viewers) attention moves to Sharpe, but by then, he has already returned to England, to his home at Crimson Peak.

Edith soon joins him, because she has no other family in the US. She believes he really loves her, but things are not quite right at the old house. Of course, when Edith learns of the house's name, she is reminded of her mother's warning.

Still, she wants to make it work with the Baron, and it is at this point we are introduced to his sinister sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). It's clear from early on that the two women are not destined to get on, with Thomas and Lucille appearing a little too close for a brother and sister to be.

Soon after, Sharpe marries Edith, much to the annoyance of Lucille, and when they stay away one night to consumate their marriage, the two women have a showdown, in which Edith shows her anger by saying 'Lucille - I am his wife.'

Lucille continues to act odd, barely holding back her contempt for Edith. When she sees ghosts in the house, her statements are dismissed as 'well, it's an old house'.

Edith is also warned not to go to certain parts of the house, but needs must, and as the story unfolds, we realise the Baron's true intent, and his sister's plan for Edith.

To say any more would reveal too many spoilers. Let's just cover off a few things where the film fails to deliver.

You see, I wanted to see a gothic horror film. Crimson Peak is more of a gothic romance - a bloody, brilliantly executed gothic romance, but as a horror, it misses a few targets.

The ghosts, for example, are wonderful to look at, rather than scary. But I don't want to deal the film down, because ultimately I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

All three leads give it their all. Jessica Chastain was especially wonderful for me, and Mia Wasikowska makes for an interesting heroine who has a spirit enough to give other modern heroines like Katniss Everdeen a run for their money.

The ending is great, but the story is always engaging. You will want to know what happens. Whilst the violence is sporadic, it is very strong when it happens. The implied theme of incest will turn off some viewers too. But I hope del Toro returns to the horror theme in the future.

Previous review: Macbeth Next: Spectre