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Film review: ‘Crimson Peak,’ dir. Guillermo del Toro

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Whether he’s telling the story of a young girl during the Spanish Civil War, a couple in search of their lost child, or the secrets surrounding the death of a young student, director Guillermo del Toro crafts horror films like no other. Beautiful cinematography, strong character development, and unpredictable plot twists make his films such as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Orphanage,” and “The Devil’s Backbone” visually stunning and psychologically disturbing.

“Crimson Peak” is a beautiful film, but the story is not as profound as one might expect from the acclaimed director.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) opens the film by saying, “Ghosts are real; this much I know.” Throughout her life, she has been able to see ghosts, and she uses this ability to uncover mysteries throughout the film.

Edith’s life as a writer changes course when Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives in Buffalo, N.Y. They quickly fall in love, decide to marry, and return to England together. Edith moves to the Sharpe estate, Allerdale Hall, nicknamed Crimson Peak for the red clay that eerily seeps up from the ground. Also living there is Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who makes her disapproval of Edith obvious from the beginning. The audience quickly realizes that the marriage is rooted in deception, and we uncover more sinister details about Sharpe as the film progresses.

The film’s strongest element is its actors. Wasikowska, best-known for her starring role in “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), perfectly represents the innocence and purity the film’s antagonists seek to crush. Tom Hiddleston plays the part of a handsome stranger whose pleas of love are irresistible. Jessica Chastain remains cold and reserved for most of the film, but her acting skills shine in the final scenes.

Not for the faint of heart, “Crimson Peak” features some brutal violence similar to that of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Orphanage.” If you can’t handle lots of blood, this is not the movie for you.

Visually, “Crimson Peak” is exceptionally beautiful. The Victorian setting contributes significantly to the overall creepiness of the film. The dilapidated mansion where most of the story takes place features long, dark hallways, an open-cage elevator, and a basement filled with vats of red clay. Contrasting the darkness of the house, the bright costumes perfectly suit the characters; Edith often wears yellow or white, Thomas is almost always in black, and Lucille is visually tied to the clay in her many red dresses.

Unfortunately, the plot feels rather simple compared to its setting. The audience quickly learns that the relationship between Thomas and Edith is destined to fail, and though we don’t know every element of the story until the end, we spend most of the time waiting for Edith to discover information we already know. The most shocking element of the characters’ relationship can be predicted long before the big reveal, failing to leave the audience as devastated as we should be.

One of my favorite elements of del Toro’s films is his use of ghosts and monsters, however “Crimson Peak” falls short of his other films. Certainly, the ghosts in “Crimson Peak” are frightening. But unlike the creatures in “Pan’s Labyrinth” or the ghosts in “The Devil’s Backbone,” they play a very minor role in the story. Giving them agency could have helped the story move along at a quicker pace.

Unlike other horror movies, Guillermo del Toro’s films rely less on jump scares and more on psychologically disturbing plot twists. He makes the viewer expect a ghost story and instead delivers a shocking reminder of the horror of humanity. “Crimson Peak” accomplishes this, but both the ghosts and the plot feel inadequate when compared to del Toro’s other films.

The verdict: Beautiful cinematography makes “Crimson Peak” worth watching, but if you want to see Guillermo del Toro at his best, stick to “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

 

Reach Podcast Editor Katie Anastas at arts@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @KatieAnastas

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