I’m not really one to enjoy horror movies. I have a far too vivid imagination to risk myself seeing horrific ghost or monster flicks when I know that I will just see everything in my sleep that same night. But what I do enjoy are intelligent horror stories, like The Babadook, or It Follows, ones that aren’t just chuck full of cheap jump scares, and have genuinely disturbing or troubling images and themes that make my spine tingle when I’m excitedly telling everyone to watch it. When I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s The Orphanage, I was left with just those feelings. Same goes for Pan Labyrinth, whilst that is more of a fantasy story, I think we can all agree that THAT ONE CHARACTER shit us all up the first time we saw it. So I know that Del Toro is capable of these intelligent horrors, or at least truly troubling imagery that stick with you, and for that exact reason, I was really excited to see Crimson Peak. That, and it’s fantastic cast, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain (aka, the love of my life) and gothic themes, what is there to go wrong?
This film follows the story of Edith Cushing, a budding young writer who is swept away by the charms of Baronet Thomas Sharpe, and his sister Lucille. Edith is a believer in ghosts, ever since she was first visited by her mother’s ghost as a child, who gave her the foreboding warning of ‘When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak’. When she leaves her home to marry and live with the Sharpe siblings in their old, dingy, broken down, sinking home of Allerdale Hall, her nightmarish visions become far more frequent. At this point though, I am forced to quote Edith herself, in that this movie isn’t a ghost story. It is a story, with ghosts in it. I won’t divulge much into the actual story itself, but I guess this is my own foreboding warning of ‘Don’t be tricked by the trailers and marketing to think this is a typical halloween horror flick because it’s not, it’s a little more complicated than that and pulls more from the gothic genre than horror, but whatever’.
First things first. This film is an absolute visual treat. If there is anything that Del Toro can do well, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals that really encapsulate the viewers attention. The colours in this movie are so rich, the grade using mostly deep oranges, yellows, and contrasting greens that really aid the dingy, gothic nature of the movie. It was simply beautiful! And the sets are…amazing. Allerdale Hall is a beast of its own. It’s a wonderful mix of true late 19th century, early 20th century housing with creaky floor boards, extravagant wooden beds, old stoves, dingy bath tubs and squeaky pipes, and then Del Toro’s own take of a truly gothic house. A red clay that is mined beneath the house by the Sharpe’s company means that the house is almost infected with the red stuff – there are parts of the house that are literally dripping with red, which cut straight through the mostly orange and green hues of the film, which creates a lovely contrast. Huge holes in the ceiling and floors of the house create wonderful pools of light that contrast to the general darkness of the house, Everything about the look of this movie seems to me to be all about contrasts, even down to the character’s costumes. Thomas Sharpe sticks out like a sore thumb in amongst the trendy, extravagant outfits of the company Edith keeps, wearing only black, whilst in return, Edith does exactly the same with her light, frilly outfits that break the darkness of Allerdale Hall. It’s all very visually stimulating, and I absolutely loved that. I will just talk quickly about the CGI in terms of the ghosts. They are amazing. They aren’t like any ghost I have seen in film before, and unlike most horror films, there is no mystery about them, which I love. When you see her mother’s ghost, and the multiple ghosts in Allerdale Hall, you see them for all they are, upfront, and bloody gruesome. It’s brilliant, I simply loved them, though I would shit myself if they ever decided to pay me a visit.
The story itself is…an odd one. I’ve seen this movie two times now, and both times I left the cinema feeling unsure as to whether I actually liked it or not. In theory, its a pretty simple story of deception and love with ghosts thrown in to help the narrative. But, in honesty, despite Del Toro’s previous works being very unique and intelligent, I found this story and the way it unfolds almost insulting. The story sides with Edith, having it mostly told by her perspective (she doesn’t narrate the whole thing, but we are with HER throughout the entire movie), so we are supposed to be as much in the dark as she is about the situation she finds herself in. But I just found that I was spoon fed information that, to be quite frank with you, I already knew, or guessed. This story tries to be intelligent with all its twists and turns, and I appreciate those twists and turns; it’s just the way that it unfurls I really didn’t like. I have such a problem with characters explaining exposition, or saying extremely cliché lines, because it just withdraws me from the film immediately. So when we are mostly by Edith’s side, but then taken off by the Sharpe sibling’s to listen in to a bit of a dodgy conversation, I just didn’t feel excited by that. I just felt like I was in a pantomime watching the whole ‘IT’S BEHIND YOU’ bullshit routine again. When a character has to literally explain in simple-man terms what the hell is going on, when you the audience already know whats going on, it just feels like maybe Del Toro was unsure himself that you got what was going on. I felt like there was no room for me to figure out what was happening because it was just constantly being battered into me every ten minutes. It was strange. But take all that away, and get to the bare bones of the story, and now you’ve got something. I didn’t mind the story in the slightest. It was strange and tragic, and I liked that it did keep you on your toes quite a lot.
In terms of performances, I actually loved everyone that was in it. Mia Wasikowska played the role of the Gothic Heroine very well, I felt. Being a strong woman at the beginning then suddenly being whisked away and being left with nothing in a terrifying place felt very typical of the Gothic. Not to mention that she looks the part as well. Though, some of my friends that saw it said that they felt that her performance was a bit flat. I’m wondering whether this was just because of the gothic nature of her performance, and that contrasting with what we usually see in mainstream film, or whether she was actually flat. I felt it more was leaning towards the former. Tom Hiddleston brilliantly played the heartthrob with a tragic background and a tortured soul. He is just plain lovely, to be quite honest. And Jessica Chastain…fantastic! There’s more to Lucille than meets the eye, and from the first moment you see her on screen, you can tell that immediately. Everything, from the way she acts, to the way she holds herself, to very subtle changes in her facial expression, demonstrated her character perfectly. Am I fangirling too much? Probably. I thought the trio worked extremely well together, and I’m almost glad that Benedict Cumberbatch and Emma Stone dropped out of the roles of the Sharpe twins to let Hiddleston and Chastain flourish together instead!
To conclude; I didn’t despise Crimson Peak. But I felt like the visuals were what carried the film to be honest. The performances, whilst very good, couldn’t hide the fact that the story was a little under developed, and insulting in places. I wish Del Toro took a leaf out of his own book, for The Orphanage and allowed some of the story to reveal itself to the audience at its own pace, and left some of it to interpretation, as opposed to spoon feeding it. I would actually recommend this to people that aren’t a fan of horror, as you are exposed to some elements of horror, but are also treated to an interesting love story. All I’ll say is…the true horror is not the ghosts, but the story behind their existence.