October always brings a selection of new horror releases, some part of established franchises, and some not. This week’s film, an R-rated Gothic Horror film from director Guillermo Del Toro, falls into the latter category.
Title: Crimson Peak
Cast and Crew
Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing
Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe
Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe
Charlie Hunnam as Dr. Alan McMichael
Doug Jones as the ghost of Edith’s Mother & Lady Sharpe
Javier Botet as the other ghosts
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Written & Directed by Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins
As of this writing, currently in first-run theaters.
Edith Cushing is the daughter of a wealthy American businessman, whose mother died of cholera when she was 10. After her mother’s funeral, Edith was visited by her mother’s ghost with a warning – “Beware Crimson Peak!”
Now Edith is in her twenties, and is aspiring to be a writer. When her father is visited by a British aristocrat, Sir Thomas Sharpe, who is looking for investors for his clay mine on the family’s ancestral, the two of them hit it off. Edith’s father, Carter, forces Thomas to leave. After Carter dies in a tragic accident, Thomas returns, and the two are wed and move to the Sharpe family’s ancestral estate, Allerdale Hall. However, after their departure, Edith’s childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael begins looking in to Edith’s father’s death, suspecting foul play.
Shortly after moving in to Allerdale Hall, Edith starts seeing the ghosts of women who died violent deaths. The estate itself is dilapidated, with red clay oozing out of the pipes and walls, and the whole house groaning like a living thing. Further, Thomas soon reveals that the red clay gives the ground a bloodstained color when it snows, causing the locals to refer to the estate as Crimson Peak…
Allerdale Hall is, itself, a significant character in the film. The creaks, groans, and occasional problems with clay in the plumbing (causing the water to run blood red for a time), give way to red seeping out of the walls, and the snow showing as if it was drenched in blood, as more and more of the building’s dark and bloody history is revealed.
Hiddleston and Chastain also do a wonderful job as the Sharpe siblings. Hiddleston has excellent chemistry with Chastain as well as with Wasikowska, which is vital for this film to work. Similarly, Chastain and Wasikowska have the right amount of awkwardness to reflect their strained relationship, without it coming across that the two weren’t acting.
It’s also worth mentioning that the film’s script gives a tremendous amount of agency to the character of Edith. The men basically end up playing second fiddle to the women. Not to say that Thomas and Alan don’t do anything in the story. More Edith and Lucille drive more of the events of the plot, and Thomas and Alan’s actions are in reaction to the actions of the women more than the men.
I can’t help but feel that most of Alan’s actions in the film could be cut almost entirely from the movie. Not that his scenes aren’t good, but that he has almost no impact on the narrative. He doesn’t reveal anything to Edith that she doesn’t already know. He doesn’t do anything in the final confrontation. He basically exists for two reasons. First, he’s the reason why the townsfolk are coming to the mansion at the end – because he clearly had a bee in his bonnet and was willing to walk four hours in the snow to get to the Hall. Second, he’s there to provide a sign to Edith of Thomas’ redemption, and to see Edith’s strength of will at the end of the film, protecting him to draw away an opponent, as opposed to the other way around.
Also, the bit with the wax cylinders felt a bit off. Yes, I know this is a big house, and stuff would likely get missed, and I understand that they’re basically there to give Edith something else to look for – why are there recorded wax cylinders in the house without there being a phonograph? It still feels like a bit of a plot hole – as the Wax cylinders could have been found in the chest earlier – and instead the ghosts could have steered Edith to the chest – or something else that would merit further investigation.
Originality: This film is a lot of existing concepts combined together wonderfully – the AIP Poe films, plus a bit of the Amicus or Hammer horror films from the 70s, with a throughline of the Brontes (or Jane Austen, but probably more the Brontes) in the sense that this story might be what you’d get if one of the Brontes read “The Fall of the House of Usher” and went “I can do better than that!” 4/6
Effects: The effects are generally subtle, aside from the ghosts and one scene with some insects, and are very well done. Of particular note is the wonderful use of moths throughout Allerdale Hall. If those were real moths, then that must have been a nightmare to pull off, so props for succeeding on that effect. If those were physical effects, then they’re very well done, and if they’re CGI, then I really couldn’t tell. 6/6
Story: The story is very well written. I figured some elements of the story out early, but the film managed to keep me guessing on a lot of other bits in the film. I do think much of the plot involving Alan could probably have been cut out of the film – he only really provides two pieces of information we were missing otherwise. 5/6.
Acting: See the High Point. 5/6
Production: Guillermo Del Toro is one of the best visual filmmakers working today. While, certainly Terrence Malik is also a very visual director, Del Toro does something that Malik doesn’t. Del Toro has a Kubrick or Ridley Scott-esque attention to detail to everything on the screen, so every aspect of the sets from the moisture on the walls, the props on the shelves, to the amount of wear on people’s clothing draws you into that world. Malik presents gorgeous visuals, but doesn’t do anything really with them. Del Toro builds a world, and for the film’s runtime, makes you inhabit it. 6/6
Emotional Response: The opening portions of the film, while we were in Buffalo, New York, kind of felt like they dragged. There was suspense, but much of it was in the background. Once we reached Allerdale Hall, there was a real sense of suspense and dread in the film. 5/6
Overall: To coin a pull quote – if you’re planning on going out to see a new release horror film in theaters this Halloween (as opposed to the Fathom Events upcoming re-release of John Carpenter’s Halloween), this is definitely the one to go see. 5/6
In total, Crimson Peak gets 36/42.
Oct. 24: Crimson Peak (2015)
Podcast: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The Babadook (2014)
Podcast: Event Horizon (1997)