By Alejandro Montalvo
Although released in October, the month for horror, Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” is oddly light on scares and heavy on romance. TV spots and trailers market “Crimson Peak” like a fright-fest, but in interviews Del Toro uses the term “gothic romance” to describe his film. Many fans were disappointed after seeing it. If you’re looking for scares, perhaps “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” is more your speed.
Set in the late 19th century,the film follows a young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring writer who falls in love with the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Sharpe and his chilly sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), are traveling the world in hopes of securing financing for Thomas’s clay-mining machine. The romance between Edith and Thomas takes flight quite quickly, but piercing stares from Lucille foreshadow something else at work in the shadows. Edith and Thomas get hitched and she follows him and Lucille back to the decaying Sharpe manor in England. Ghostly warnings and strange events lead Edith to suspect that living on Crimson Peak, the hill on which Sharpe manor resides, might be fatal.
Much like Del Toro’s earlier films, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” you’ll see plenty of similarities in “Crimson Peak,” most notably in the top notch production design. Production designer Thomas E. Sanders has created a beautiful and meticulously detailed 19th century world. The Sharpe manor is a wondrous, shadowy set, decorated with Victorian furniture and rusting appliances. In the main foyer, leaves cascade from high above in a hole in the roof. It’s these small touches that lend visual depth to many of the shots. The film is certainly a beautiful film to look at.
Even during the few creepy scenes, the design of the ghosts were rotting and wispy. The choices of color were also prominent in the horror film, as the color red was used often, especially in the seeping red clay that oozes up out of the ground from the Sharpe estate. Certain shots definitely justify spending the extra money for IMAX.
Unfortunately, the look of the film is its sole redeeming feature. When it comes to the script and acting, the film falters. The two lovers, Wasikowska and Hiddleston, may be eye candy but some of their lines were not up to par with the rest of the film. It was bad enough to induce eye-rolls. Chastain delivers the best performance of the three, but perhaps that’s because she doesn’t have to spout cheesy romantic cliches. “Sons of Anarchy” star Charlie Hunnam plays a supporting role, but most of his scenes are marred by his inability to hold a consistent accent.
Not only were their problems in the script, but the narrative pacing also drew back the film. With a running time of two hours the film drags on in too many spots and feels its length. But the last half of the film, when the movie began to reach its conclusion, it feels rushed. The ending is predictable, but it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Guillermo del Toro is a great filmmaker, capable of creating engrossing and exciting films. “Crimson Peak” has flashes of artistry but unfortunately was a disappointment.
Alejandro Montalvo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.