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Crimson Peak – film review

October 29, 2015

CRIMSON PEAK

Visually sumptuous. Viscerally intense.

Reviewed on Wednesday 28th October 2015

crimson peak - mia wasikowska as edith

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins. Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddelston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam. Running time: 119 mins.

When aspiring American author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) marries struggling English inventor Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddelston) and moves into the isolated       and crumbling English country mansion he shares with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith encounters terrifying apparitions, warning her she is in grave danger if she stays.

As I’ve long been a huge admirer of del Toro, I was always planning to go see this film and so deliberately steered clear of any marketing or trailers prior to seeing it – which meant I was able to go in without any preconceived expectations of what kind of film it was going to be. I wasn’t even aware it had a period setting, until the opening scenes played out. All I knew was that it would most likely be dark, atmospheric, intelligent and creepy. And yes, this is precisely what it is. A homage to Victorian Gothic, Crimson Peak is imbued with a modern sensibility; featuring sexually lurid underpinnings, graphic violence involving ceramic wash basins and sharp implements and a feisty heroine more typical of the modern era. And similar to del Toro’s earlier Spanish language films (Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone), Crimson Peak could indeed be considered less an exercise in out-and-out horror     and more a dark fantasy with horror elements.

I find myself reluctant to talk about plot, as much of the joy in experiencing Crimson Peak is watching the mystery unfold. And while ghostly apparitions do figure at pivotal points throughout the film – providing jump scares and general creepiness; they aren’t necessarily the focus of the story (very much a Victorian sensibility),     while the house itself could indeed be considered a character in its own right.

The principal cast are uniformly excellent – with Tom Hiddelston clearly comfortable with the turn-of-the-century mileu and Mia Wasikowska also solid as the (admitedly anachronistic) feminist heroine. But it is Jessica Chastain who ultimately steals the show – with a truly memorable performance; quite unlike anything she has done before.

As one would expect from a del Toro picture, Crimson Peak is vivid, richly colorful and visually sumptuous (with the director again working with DOP Dan Laustsen, whom he had worked with previously on Mimic). However, Randy Thom’s immersive sound design must also be acknowledged – adding greatly to the sense of general unease (the cinema surround sound utilized to great effect). The turn-of-the-century period setting is convincingly evoked and the vernacular of the time is also consistently maintained in del Toro and Robbins’ tightly-honed screenplay. While,     for the most part, a mystery – the tension does ratchet up to an almost excruciating degree: spiralling towards an incredibly visceral and bloody third act which literally had me white-knuckled for the last twenty minutes.

Del Toro has never made a mediocre film – his work has always been consistently engaging; displaying a passionate vision which is lovingly crafted. And Crimson Peak, at least in my mind, absolutely continues this trajectory.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, October 28th 2015.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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15 Comments
  1. davecrewe permalink

    Ah, I loved the look of this one, but wish I liked the film proper as much as you did. Nice review, though, even I remain unconvinced. 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yeah – it appears to have divided auds. A big hit with the ladies though, apparently. 🙂

      • davecrewe permalink

        Yeah, one of the friends I saw it with said she mostly spent the film thinking how pretty Vin Diesel was, so it’s got that going for it!

      • gregory moss permalink

        Wait – Vin Diesel was in this?!

      • davecrewe permalink

        Haha nope, I got confused with my comments! (I’d just replied to a comment about The Last Witch Hunter on my blog.) Disregard!

      • gregory moss permalink

        Haha – yeah, it’s easy to do. 🙂

      • do you mean the last with hunter?

  2. nice review, i reviewed this one myself but remain convinced there could have been more to it

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Lee! Although I haven’t seen the trailer, apparently it’s being promoted as a horror film – which may have given auds the wrong impression going in (another reason why I try to stay away from trailers these days – quite apart from them giving too much away). I think del Toro has been wrongly labelled as a horror director in some circles, whereas I reckon what he really is is a director of dark fantasy.

  3. I was hugely curious to watch this but its received some bad reviews. Yours seems one of the few largely positive. Sometimes films with such mixed reviews are the most interesting so looks worth a shot. Is it simply a case of visuals outweighing the script?

    • gregory moss permalink

      I didn’t have an issue with the script … it may be more a case of expectation. But as I stayed away from all marketing to do with the film – I had no expectations going in – which I think is the key to enjoying a movie anyway … 🙂

      • I think you are right re: expectations, these days I try to avoid trailers, particularly as so many trailers these days tend to show so much now. Some of them are like abridged versions of the whole film. Its funny how we live in this information age and the trick is avoiding that info to miss spoilers or be too hyped.

      • gregory moss permalink

        Absolutely! They are like abridged versions of the films aren’t they – whereas what they should be doing is giving you a sense of the genre and tone – and that’s it. Some of the great trailers from the 70s and early 80s hardly ever revealed the plot – like the trailer for ALIEN for example. I’m patiently waiting for things to turn around … but I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

  4. Nice review! I was thinking about checking this one out. I’m much more likely to now since you liked it. 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks! I reckon you’ll probably dig it. And I look forward to your thoughts. 🙂

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