Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: Crimson Peak

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Language: English
Rating: R
Run time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Genre: Fantasy, Gothic Romance

It's no secret that I'm a fan of gothic romances and Guillermo del Toro. The idea of having the two things in one film was certainly a plus for me. The trailers were enough to give me the intense desire to see this one. You can read Miko's quick review of the film here. I knew that the marketing was likely skewed. This isn't a horror movie in the sense of the hack and slash, jump scare horror that Hollywood likes to spew out. Guillermo del Toro is a storyteller who shows us that the true horrors lie in our own humanity rather than what goes bump in the night.

'In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers.' [Source: IMDB]

'Ghosts are real, that much I know. I've seen them all my life...'

We start Crimson Peak with the knowledge that Edith can see spirits. However, this isn't a ghost story. It's a story with ghosts in it. As I mentioned before, marketing this film as horror tears away some of it's emotional pull that could have been built from the trailer onward. People expecting jump scares are going to be sorely disappointed. More importantly, the ghosts serve as an important plot device for Edith's past and present. I won't go into too much detail simply because I don't want to provide spoilers.

What would a Gothic romance be like without suitors? Edith meets her childhood friend, Alan, as well as Thomas, the mysterious man rumored to be in town to court Alan's sister. Alan shares the same interests that Edith does including the interest in ghosts. No matter how perfect he seems, the young doctor is no comparison to Thomas. He's dark and brooding where Alan is light and open. What's a girl to do with herself when she has such choices before her? Thomas has an interest in her manuscript after all...

'A house as old as this one becomes, in time, a living thing. It starts holding onto things... keeping them alive when they shouldn't be. Some of them are good; some of them bad... Some should never be spoken about again.'

The story begins in Buffalo, New York and advances to the rural English countryside. As Edith falls deeper in love with Thomas, we're introduced to the real star of this film. Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe siblings' ancestral home, was built entirely for the film. It's a lavish, beautiful creation that lives and breathes. Everything from the wallpaper to the crumbling tapestries makes this a set that comes alive with every take. Guillermo del Toro has an eye for the beautifully monstrous. Allerdale Hall is no exception with its red clay seeping through the floorboards or snow falling from the hole in the roof.

Each corner of the set is filled to the brim with details that give insight into the lives of these characters. From the elaborate painting of Lady Beatrice Sharpe that looms over the piano to the hand-painted mural in what was once the siblings' playroom, these larger touches never seem out of place. There are smaller details that caught my attention as well. Lucille's collection of pinned moths and butterflies, for example. Does she feel that she's one of those dark moths, regulated to darkness and decay?

That feeling is echoed in the coloring used for the two female characters. Lucille is brilliant reds, dark blues and blacks while Edith is florals, creams and bright golds. These are two women who've lived very different lives, but still tragic in their own ways. Love is the central theme. The lengths that these women will go to for love, whether the love and loss of a father or the love of a sibling, ultimately shape who they are. Lucille is right when she says that love makes monsters of us all.

The ghosts in this film are practical effects layered with cgi to make them more ethereal. Guillermo del Toro rarely shies away from building real world effects. He uses Doug Jones, a frequent collaborator from the Hellboy series and Pan's Labyrinth, for two of the ghosts. Javier Botet wears the prosthetics for the other spirits. It might have been easier to film the spirits entirely in cgi, but the end result is much better. These aren't waifish ghosts lofting in the corners. They're full of rich color and presence even as they appear or disappear from frame.

Don't get me wrong. The film's charms don't lie entirely in Guillermo's ability to create beautiful scenery. The strengths of the actors provides an additional layer of depth to the story. My favorite to watch is Jessica Chastain. This is perhaps her most intricate performance. She's a delight to watch as she moves through Allerdale Hall with all its secrets. Tom Hiddleston is inherently charming as always.  It's quite easy to see why he's such an in demand actor. Mia is as lovely as one of the butterflies her character is colored after. However, I do worry that she may become typecast into period pieces as the ever lovely heroine. It's difficult for some people to get past the plot's taboo and traditionally Gothic themes. However, if those things unsettle you, perhaps Guillermo del Toro has succeeded in exposing another of your fears with his brand of horror.

Rating: 4/5

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