I firmly believe the number one issue with ‘Crimson Peak’ was how it was marketed. Universal chose to sell the film as a horror feature filled with ghastly ghouls and scares aplenty. This however does not do justice to the film’s actual genre, which is more of a gothic-romance mystery with some ghosts involved. In fact the scriptwriters tell us several times, “It’s not a ghost story, more of a story with ghosts in it.” which is far more accurate. To be fair the film is not a bad one by any measure, it is simply not the one I, nor likely many other moviegoers, expected.
This is a tale more Bronte than brutal. Don’t let me fool you though, blood is everywhere in this movie. The scares just aren’t. The movie is more atmospheric and moody than frightening and adrenaline fueled. Edith, Mia Wasikowska, is our heroine in this tale. The story begins as she is given a graven warning from her ghostly deceased mother, “Beware the Crimson Peak!”. From there Edith grows into a young woman with a penchant for the written word trying to sell one of her manuscripts. The film quickly, and wisely, introduces us to the most compelling character in the story, Sir Thomas Sharpe, in a scene stealing performance by Tom Hiddleston (Loki from ‘The Avengers’, if you were unaware). Sharpe is visiting America from England with his piano playing sister Lucille, portrayed by an intense Jessica Chastain. Together they are searching for funding for Sir Thomas’ invention that digs up the red clay from his English estate so that they may take it and use the unusually crimson muck for building material and other such uses. At least, that’s what they tell everyone. The film tries to invoke a level of secrecy into the plot at this point with quick edits and quiet lines of dialogue between the brother and sister that imply greatly sinister proceedings, a sure danger for our Edith later on. That’s just the problem though, while the film builds in intensity, the ending, while disturbing, never quite lives up to what is implied throughout.
I don’t hate this movie, not by a long shot. I am just disappointed by it. There are great things in it however. Tom Hiddleston’s acting is superb throughout, able to communicate sorrow, treachery, sadness, and heart with barely a look. The man can act, and act well. The best thing about the film though has to be production design. Crimson Peak itself might make a top ten list for haunted houses in the future. It feels as old and decrepit as the characters say it is, and the house itself provides the eerie sensation that permeates most of the film. As the manor is slowly sinking into the red clay beneath there is often red goo pulsating out of the cracks and oozing through the floorboards. It is certainly creepy. The sad part about all of this is that that sole factor makes the cgi ghosts that much more troubling. As good as the cgi is at times, it just doesn’t feel as though the ghosts are actually interacting with the world we are supposed to believe they inhabit. The house looks too real for the ghosts. My other issue here is that the script gives away the plot in spades, what the writer might have thought were subtle nods are downright spoilers in my mind. While this might not be true for every viewer, it did not further the experience, but rather detracted from it, in my opinion.
Again, I do appreciate that this movie exists though. It is a wonderful contrast to the other cinematic options that are available. It also doesn’t rely on the male characters for the meat of the story. Yes Sir Sharpe is an important player in the film, but it is the two female leads that are the center focus of the tale. Oh, and Charlie Hunnam is also in the film, and he serves his purpose well, but his part is entirely knowable from the moment you meet him essentially. So, while I respect this film for purely existing, that is not enough to make it a great film. Hopefully this doesn’t mean Guillermo Del Toro’s other passion projects are pushed to the side after this.
Final Score: 7/10