“You best start believing in ghost stories, Miss Cushing… you’re in one”
Ok, no, Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe didn’t say this in the film, but he might as well have done. Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic ghost story is, for all intents and purposes, a love letter to dark, gothic ghost stories of the past, owing a debt to cinema and literatures greatest ghost stories, as well as the novels that romanticized the murky, grey fields of Britain.
Del Toro is definitely a man that knows what he’s doing. Every frame of this rouge tinted, shadow laden film evokes a chill down the spine, even during something as romantic as a Waltz. It’s classically made, conjuring images of Scarlett O’Hara, with circular scene transitions and sweeping shots of barren English landscapes, nothing in it is by accident.
You can tell that the whole thing has been crafted with the deft touch of a master at work, the design is sumptuous enough, but the way Del Toro uses the camera, creeping it along the velvet, leaf covered floor, showing off the grandeur of the set, no corner remains undarkened, no light defies flickering.
What it loses in story, Crimson Peak makes up for in everything else. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen, is often breathtaking, an instance of the DOP and set designer working in perfect sync with each other. The music, from Fernando Velázquez, is sweeping, gentle, classical and eerie, it glides like the ruffles of a swish dress, and thumps like the beat of a terrified heart. It, like every piece of design work in the film, is its own character.
Unfortunately, the film also has its flaws, mainly to do with the plot. It’s so steeped in influence and classical ideas, that the story is nothing remarkable. It follows many familiar beats of many other stories, and in the end there is no great twist or surprising moment in the whole thing, but, to its credit, it doesn’t matter the darndest bit.
The characters are interesting and engaging, the performances are powerful and ever so slightly hammy in the best possible way. Mia Wasikowska is a strong, adept lead, taking command of her surroundings and dispelling any notion of weakness. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic, he’s charming and confident, walking into every scene like he’s been doing it for years. He can be angry, he can be sad, he can be tender and he can be scary. He’s a man that has made a name for himself as one popular character, but Crimson Peak proves, beyond doubt, that he’s more than capable of doing other things.
Jessica Chastain is also delightfully commanding and devilishly terrifying, looming in the shadows of every scene, her pursed lips and stern eyes hang in the bitingly cold air, sticking in your mind, even after they’ve gone.
Elsewhere the ghosts themselves are terrifying, rotten apparitions, croaking and clicking through the corridors, screaming in agony or dragging their bloodied bodies across the Crimson carpet. They are just as scary on screen, then when you’re waiting for them to appear. Though the plot is half a chilling ghost story, half a Gothic romance, it’s those ghosts that really infect every moment you watch. It’s the atmosphere of fetid death that hangs in the cold air, that really makes this film memorable.
I’d say that Crimson Peak, with only story based flaws, succeeds in being a feast for all the senses. Whether the visual of leaves and snow drifting through the rotting ceiling of the old house, or feeling a bit chilly as Edith wanders through the blackened opulence of Allerdale Hall. It’s simply one of the most vivid, most classical films of the year.
Rating: B+ 8/10