Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene, Jon Jashni, and Thomas Tull. Written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins. Release date: October 16, 2015.
It is a shame that only a small percent of the projects director Guillermo del Toro talks about making come to fruition. This is a man with such a strong directorial track record that if he could make them more often, he’d probably be more frequently talked about than he currently is. From the Hellboy movies, to lower budget horror movies like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, all the way up to gorgeous films like Pan’s Labyrinth or, now, Crimson Peak, del Toro has demonstrated his immense talent a number of times. His only problem, thus far, has been drawing an audience. Even Pacific Rim, which has giant robots punching even bigger monsters in it, had to rely on its worldwide gross to break even.
Crimson Peak, even with its smaller budget of an estimated $55 million, might struggle to draw an audience, too, even though, like most of del Toro’s films, it’s quite good – at least, once it gets going. It suffers through a dull first third before actually arriving at its titular haunted mansion, which is when it picks up.
Our story follows Edith (Mia Wasikowska), whose father is brutally murdered just as she falls in love with a baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who lives in a decrepit mansion in England with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Without her father to keep her in America, Edith goes to live with her husband at the mansion, only to discover that it is very much haunted. The audience gets to see that Thomas and Lucille are up to no good eons before she figures it out. Her main concerns, at least early on, are the ghosts. But of whom should she truly be afraid?
The mansion is the best character in Crimson Peak, which is a bit of a shame. Maybe it’s a cliché to call the location of a film its own character, but Allerdale Hall – as it is called – really does work as one. It’s so interesting that you almost struggle to care about why the Sharpes have decided to lure young Edith into their home. You just want to see what their home has to offer. With all the ghosts, the rotting ceiling, the clay seeping in through the floor – it’s a fascinating place in which to set a film.
Crimson Peak is very nice-looking, but there isn’t much going on underneath.
Despite how gross it would be to live in such a mansion, it’s beautiful to watch on-screen. Working with cinematographer Dan Laustsen, del Toro’s shots of the house, its inhabitants, and its various rooms are gorgeous. The production design is incredible. It builds such a strong atmosphere that you remain tense even when you have little other reason to. Several shots are memorable. You may struggle to remember Edith’s last name, or even that it’s called “Allerdale Hall” – “Crimson Peak” is just a nickname, we learn – but you’ll easily recall some of the images shown to you in this movie.
The plot, on the other hand, takes something of a backseat. The “romance” isn’t very effective from the get-go, regardless of how true it may be. The characters aren’t all that deep, with the worst offender being a doctor played by Charlie Hunnam, who is a Mary Sue character if ever there was one. It doesn’t help that Hunnam turns in by far the worst performance of the four top-billed actors. There isn’t a ton of horror; most of what we get are a few jump scares from the ghosts, as well as isolated – and somewhat surprising – incidents of bloody violence. It’s never boring, but looking at it after it ends, it’s easy to recognize that it’s a pretty shallow movie. Crimson Peak is very nice-looking, but there isn’t much going on underneath, outside of a heavy-handed metaphor involving the ghosts and the past.
I’m ultimately okay with it being shallow. Crimson Peak is a fun ride while it lasts, especially after it gets going. Its three leads are good – Jessica Chastain, in particular, is as fantastic as usual, here winding up more frightening than most of the ghosts – the camerawork and production design are top-notch, and it does get a few scares. If nothing else, it’s a rare wide-release horror movie that is (A) good, (B) not found-footage, and (C) not made on a shoestring budget just to suck the money out of its genre’s devoted but starved fans. If nothing else, it’s worth supporting just so that a del Toro movie makes money. That may be the only way you will get your Pacific Rim 2.
Bottom Line: Crimson Peak is gorgeous, contains a great atmosphere, features three solid acting performances, and has a few brief instances of bloody violence. It’s pretty fun.
Recommendation: See Crimson Peak not just because it’s quite enjoyable, but also to support a filmmaker who needs it in order to continue doing projects that are worth seeing.[rating=3]