It’s not often that I absolutely fall in love with a film and at the same time can admit that the film is in fact more style than substance — something usually seen as a flaw. Crimson Peak is one of my favorite movies of the year, and that isn’t because of its story or themes. Crimson Peak soars high, boasting the best costume and set design of any 2015 release, and includes unsurprisingly incredible direction from visionary director Guillermo Del Toro and spot-on performances from its leads Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain.
Crimson Peak paints a rote, yet beautiful picture. One that tells of a young, rich girl living in New York in the early 1900s who falls in love with an incredibly dashing and charming young Englishman. Surprisingly enough, Crimson Peak is less pure horror story, and more a Gothic love story that just so happens to feature plenty of ghosts and some murder.
The young girl in our story is Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). She hopes to be a writer in the vein of Mary Shelley, but the male-dominated publishers want love stories from women — not the ghost stories that Edith writes. She has been fascinated by ghosts since she was young, when her mother died. As a child, her first and only encounter with an apparition was when her deceased mother visited her one night and told her naught but, “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
The man in this love story is Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a businessman who has come to America in the hopes of wrangling investors — one of whom is Edith’s father — into funding a clay mining invention he is interested in pursuing. Thomas and Edith meet during his encounter with her father, and they are immediately interested in each other. Edith’s father doesn’t approve, but like any good love story, a parent’s disapproval doesn’t stop Edith from ultimately leaving with Thomas to live with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) at their home in England. Allerdale Hall, as their rundown estate is called, just so happens to be nicknamed “Crimson Peak.” As Edith is about to find out, she really should have listened to her dead mother.
The ghosts that roam Allerdale Hall represent the previous souls that once lived, and eventually died there. And throughout the film, they are always a creepy, yet extremely exciting sight. The visual effects on the ghosts is top notch stuff. Each ghost is a skeletal representation of the person they once were. They ooze blood and groan in agony, adding to the dread that both Edith and the audience feels.
Crimson Peak is easily one of the most engrossing films I’ve seen this year. The early 20th century, strikingly Victorian-Era-ish world that Guillermo Del Toro creates and excitedly displays here, with help from cinematographer Dan Laustsen, is so well realized and exceptionally represented that I almost felt as if I were there with these characters. I can see how someone could say the movie is a bit slow, but I never felt that way for one second during the two-hour run time. There’s always something to marvel at on-screen. Be it the incredible set design, colorful costuming, or even the intentionally over-the-top acting at times, there is always something that will help keep your eyes pinned to the screen.
I do love this movie a hell of a lot, but even I know that it isn’t perfect. The story being fairly predictable and something you’ve maybe seen already once or twice (probably more, even) doesn’t work to its strengths. But I will combat this minor gripe by saying that I have never seen this exact kind of story told this well. The addition of the ghastly-looking ghosts and what they represent is a satisfying twist on this kind of story. I want to highlight the ending of the film, too, as it is extremely intense and effectively choreographed. I found myself on the edge of my seat, something that is rare for a horror film that you would assume should have you instead cowering in fear.
Crimson Peak doesn’t really have a thought-provoking plot, and that’s absolutely fine. The film’s straightforwardness allows for an easy escape into a almost dreamlike world that is bolstered by the ever impressive, and fantastical, setting and art design. Truly great films should be able and willing to transport you into a world, keeping you there for their entirety, and making you want to stay longer.
Crimson Peak does just that.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor