“I lied. The house is alive. We’re all gonna die.”
-Watson Pritchett (House on Haunted Hill )
Pan’s Labyrinth is a modern masterpiece. It is a transcendent work of art that will be shared for ages. If Guillermo del Toro never had another successful film, it would be okay because he created Pan’s Labyrinth. But this sentiment is not enough for del Toro. He has tried in the years since Pan’s Labyrinth to chase the elusive greatness of that film. With his latest release, Crimson Peak, del Toro falls far from that mark.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a budding author who sees ghosts. Her mother died at a young age and has since “visited” her from time to time. Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) have come to America from England to gather funds to build a mining machine. Thomas looks to Edith’s father Carter for money. Thomas also quickly makes Edith the center of his attention. Carter sees Thomas and Lucille as untrustworthy and wants his daughter to be left alone. However, Edith and Thomas are eventually married and return to his home in England. The dilapidated mansion has a violent past that reveals itself to Edith.
Mia Wasikowska reminds me of a young Cate Blanchett. They both have a graceful beauty that doesn’t fit the normal Hollywood aesthetic. She has chosen interesting roles from the beginning of her career and has refused to be pigeonholed as an actress. So it is no surprise that Guillermo del Toro would choose her as his leading lady. Wasikowska as Edith is neither great nor bad. She is somewhere in the middle. At times, it seems as though she’s aware she’s in a horror film.
Hiddleston was born to play characters like Thomas Sharpe. Hiddleston’s classic good looks paired with his English charm make him a perfect prince or a terrifying villain. The film’s standout performance, however, goes to Jessica Chastain. Chastain has been on a hot streak, and even though Crimson Peak isn’t amazing, her performance still is. Chastain is mysterious and intimidating as Lucille. She does a marvelous job of disguising the craziness of her character.
Guillermo del Toro is a rare director. He is given the freedom to make films that aren’t always going to appeal to a mass audience. What makes him so special is his visual flare and unbelievable knack for creating monsters. With Crimson Peak, del Toro has managed to create an eerie, yet slightly haunted house, film.
There is a special subtleness about del Toro’s filmmaking. The red clay that gives Crimson Peak its name seems to be swallowing the house. The clay oozes from the walls as if the house is bleeding. This is why del Toro is great. Crimson Peak‘s biggest success is how beautiful it looks. Del Toro’s ability to use light and color to his advantage is something most directors can only dream about. Much like comedy, horror is all about timing. The scares in Crimson Peak are never rushed, and Guillermo’s mood setting is perfect. What the film lacks in plot, it makes up for in violence and tension. Crimson Peak struggles with a subpar story though.
If Guillermo del Toro struggles in one area, it is his writing. As a writer he sometimes becomes obsessed with making his characters fit traditional roles and then trying to break them out of said role. It is a writing trick that can pay off big time if it’s done correctly. Unfortunately, here it feels forced and contrived. While the plot is simple and transparent, the mystery unfolds slowly enough to drive the tension, but that isn’t enough. Crimson Peak draws on every great ghost story made and brings nothing new to the table.
Crimson Peak is expertly crafted and absolutely gorgeous to watch. Wasikowska is sufficient as Edith, but doesn’t wow the audience. Hiddleston and Chastain are a powerhouse acting duo, and I would love to see a film about their characters’ underlying past. Jessica Chastain is far and away my favorite thing about Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro is a wonderful director. He creates some of the most tantalizing visuals in movies today, but once again a lackluster story and script let him down. The plot is so boring and easy that I’m surprised this film was even made. I know del Toro is talented, and he will without a doubt make something great once again, but Crimson Peak isn’t it. Even though it is at times creepy, Crimson Peak is pure cliché.