D: Guillermo del Toro. DP: Dan Lausten. W: Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins. Starring: Mia Waskikowska/Jessica Chastain/Tom Hiddleston/Charle Hunnam/Jim Beaver/Burn Gorman.
Halloween is nearly here and timed to the holiday comes spook master Guillermo del Toro’s newest film Crimson Peak. His first directorial effort since 2013’s Pacific Rim, the Mexican director has been involved with other projects in many ways. His departure from Warner Brother’s The Hobbit Trilogy was discussed at length in a recent profile in The New Yorker. He brings to this new film the same visual style that was so glorious in his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth and won the film three Oscars (cinematography, art direction, and make-up).
Crimson Peak is visual splendor. Set in the vague time of the turn of the last century the film follows Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who as a child is visited by her mother’s ghost who warns her of Crimson Peak. Once of age Edith turns to writing, ghosts included, but is quickly enchanted by the arrival of the tall, dark and English Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After her father’s untimely death, Edith marries Thomas and embarks to his home to live with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
Without giving much away the film’s tone of Gothic horror is as rich and red as the clay that Thomas peddles from his estate. Wasikowska’s Edith feels like Anne of Green Gables, too sharp for her time and easily seduced by puff sleeves and romance, and that is a compliment. Australian Wasikowska whose Alice in Wonderland days are soon to resurface, brings a stylish innocence that works for the heroine of a dark tale. Although not as emotionally demanding as her fine performance in 2011’s Jane Eyre she is great here, her blond tresses working in stark contrast to Chastain’s auburn ones. Originally Emma Stone was cast who would not have fit though Benedict Cumberbatch could have made a good Thomas.
The trio have good chemistry that revolves around Hiddleston’s ability to dazzle in the dark. Known for his role as Loki in the Thor and Avengers films, Hiddleston has the right balance of danger and sex. Yet his hair could have been better, seems trivial, but it’s too reminiscent of Loki. The few flaws in Crimson Peak lie with Chastain and Charlie Hunnam. Her stiff and diabolical Lucille lacks complexity and unfortunately she is never quite able to nail her English accent. Chastain’s Edith is rather too two note, up or down, hot or cold. Del Toro is said to have been inspired by Italian horror master Mario Bava. I see echoes of Black Sunday here, but Chastain is no Barbara Steele. Visually she looks the part, but it never quite takes off. Hunnam is simply too clean and earnest, his snooping is fine, but obvious.
Crimson Peak‘s greatest achievement is the Sharpe estate. Nearly sinking into the red clay of the land the house is so dilapidated the distinctions between outside and in is blurred. Snow comes through the house as bugs live and die. It’s Disney’s Haunted Mansion, but for adults. The ghosts themselves are part vision and corpse. Del Toro’s masterful hand is breathtaking and subtle. He builds worlds not creatures. To think of his what his Hobbit films would have been like is to think of the dream so intricate and beautiful you cannot remember it.