Too many audiences are making a key mistake when they go to theaters to see movies. When the Crimson Peak trailer debuted, audiences simply assumed from the imagery and the booming score that this was just another period-piece, horror movie. The old adage still holds true: Trailers Always Lie!
They are half-right. It is a period piece. I don’t expect audiences to do research studies before going to see a movie, but a little reading has never really hurt, has it?
The director himself, Guillermo del Toro has even come out in various interviews explaining that the marketing is out of his hands, as his movie is a Gothic romance; just “a story that has ghosts in it”, not necessarily a ghost story. And the man is right, after all, he made the movie.
To describe this movie in simplest terms is if Hitchcock’s best Gothic romances (Suspicion, Rebecca, & Notorious) were all pureed by Dario Argento and topped with delicious Guillermo del Toro frosting.
The story concerns a troubled young American socialite, Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland reboot fame, who yearns to explore the world and become a writer of stories. To escape the literal ghosts of her past, she falls for brooding inventor and land baron, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers), but is forbidden to love him by her concerned father (Jim Beaver, Deadwood). After her father’s mysterious death, Sharpe whisks her off to England to reside in the family manor, a decrepit house occupied by Sharpe and his curious sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty). Little does Edith know of the dark past of the manor and its occupants, but she’s about to find out the price of loving mysterious men.
The cast here is truly top-notch. Hiddleston is basically playing a combination of Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff and Michael Fassbender’s Rochester, with both turmoil and conviction. Wasikowska is a brilliant stand-in for the Joan Fontaine type. Charlie Hunnam is a charming character, for once, as the optometrist who has an interest in detective work. Jim Beaver, as Edith’s father, is not a stubborn fire and brimstone man as much as a cautious father, protecting his kin from what he perceives to be trouble. Even Burn Gorman in his brief appearance instills a sense of professional quality and resolve in his private investigator.
And then Jessica Chastain appears.
The fire that powers this woman is terrifying. Apparently possessed by the enraged spirits of both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, all eyes are on her whenever she enters the story frame. There is a definite feeling of unease when she shares the screen with anyone, especially Hiddleston and Wasikowska. Brrrr! Just remembering every scene she has brings a shiver and a smile. It’s that chillingly good! Even when she’s simply playing the piano, she’s intimidating, and yet ridiculously alluring at the same time. like if Lauren Bacall played Mommie Dearest…or maybe that’s just me.
Everything else is quite up to snuff. The production design and costumes are equally lush and epic in construction. The music is on point, although sometimes plays to horror conventions much too easily for my taste. The sound design is downright masterful, echoing the likes of Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting as well as the under-appreciated Legend of Hell House.
I gotta admit: I am in love with Guillermo’s oeuvre. The man is a cheerful storyteller whose geek flag is flying high with every movie he makes. 2013’s Pacific Rim was his love letter to kaiju movies of the 1950s as well as mecha anime of the 1990s. His Academy-Award winning Pan’s Labyrinth was an ode to fairy tales and mythic creatures of Mexican lore. This movie is his love letter to both the Gothic romance genre, the works of Brontë and Daphne du Maurier as well as classic haunted house fare like The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932). The man truly appreciates western and eastern pop culture equally, which y’all would know if you follow him on twitter. The man has near-encyclopedic knowledge of culture going back 150 years, nearly.
If you haven’t fear of witnessing what would happen if a classy story of ghosts, murder, and romantic intrigue was given a solid R-rated treatment, feel free to check out Crimson Peak before it leaves theaters, forever.