Movie Review: 'Crimson Peak' (2015)

Crimson Peak Edith Cushing Mia Wasikowska
Be wary of "Crimson Peak," writer/director Guillermo del Toro will seduce you with the film’s visual majesty to distract from a paper-thin plot. A movie that checks off every true blue horror taboo; del Toro’s extravagant production brings with it a sensory splendor that has the capacity to sweep one off of their feet without giving them the scripted substance to do so.

Opening in 20th century New York, aspiring writer and heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is toiling away on a ghost story when Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston); a refined baronet and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) enter the picture.

The Sharpe siblings’ prestigious presence jolts upper-crust society with a bustling excitement. A thrill, the usually pragmatic Edith finds herself an exception to until Thomas's gaze falls upon her. Swept into his steely charms, Edith’s life is upended by tragedy shortly thereafter, which causes her romance to soon fall under an ominous specter.

“Crimson Peak” is a supernatural story that offers nothing new in a narrative sense, while reintroducing audiences to the fleshly rendering of a mansion that’s production detail, is nothing short of staggering.

Crimson Peak Mia Wasikowska Edith Cushing
Image by Universal Pictures
For viewers sick and tired of the incessant green screen world, cinematic characters are currently trapped inside; “Crimson Peak” is a breath of mighty fresh air. There is something about watching actors play to a real environment that heightens the tangibility of a movie's dramatic stakes and "Crimson Peak" certainly benefits from that enhancement. 

If only the story matched the glory of its visage, “Crimson Peak” would have been firing on all cylinders. While it does include the crucial authenticity of a well-run production, it also involves some misplaced CGI, where the use of puppetry would have added that extra piece de resistance.

Using CGI in "Crimson Peak" is a curious choice which disrupts the movie’s overall aesthetic approach given there is such an effort made to project an incarnate world, throughout the majority of the film.

Opening at a breakneck pace, it is eventually bogged down by a midsection that significantly dawdles before hitting definitive tedium towards its crescendo.

“Crimson Peak” keeps fuel on the fire by packing in the atmospheric frights found in previous genre entries such as the 1960 Vincent Price classic “House of Usher,” before veering into the camp of 1999’s “The Haunting.” Both films similarly featured a haunted mansion at the heart of their story.

Elsewhere, the plot of “Crimson Peak” is heavily reminiscent of every Lifetime movie you can think of and especially mirrors the premise featured in Heather Graham's underrated erotic thriller "Killing Me Softly"; though "Crimson Peak" lacks that film’s sultry abandon.

Crimson Peak Jessica Chastain Lucille Sharpe
Image by Universal Pictures
Anchored by the earnest performance of the always spot-on Jessica Chastain, “Crimson Peak” finds its mettle whenever it allows her to take center stage. Chastain's sobering take on the proceedings runs in stark contrast to her co-stars, who seem to aim for the vintage acting style utilized by the stars of the movie's who shaped the genre in the 1930s and '60s.

As she did in del Toro’s “Mama,” Chastain breathes meditative life into every bit of horror that surrounds her character, and it is her performance that provides the engine of the film. Even when spending most of it in contemplative silence, Chastain says volumes. When the time finally arrives for Lucille to vocally express herself, Chastain more than delivers on the daunting swell of expectations.

As horror heroines go, Edith is a serviceable one. The character is not set up to be the most sympathetic of souls. She has a good heart yet is so reserved on emotion, she is nearly frigid, and as we unravel the transparent answer staring her in the face concerning the film’s central mystery, she crosses beyond what could be attributed to simple naivete.

The good news is that it does not completely discredit the film. She is desperate for love, and that is a vulnerable position for even the smartest of heroines to overcome. In all, “Crimson Peak” is not the apex of horror, but the genre has seen lower-slung valleys.

Rating: 6.5/10

[Featured Image by Universal Pictures]

2 comments

  1. No mentions of Tom Hiddleston's... English countryside? ;) I have to admit, I loved this film - Chastain, Wasikowska, and Hiddleston manage to create such an atmosphere and an intensity between them. They seem to all really bring out the best in each other :)

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  2. I adore "Crimson Peak". I've watched it multiple times; there's so many layers going on. Loved all the actors, Mia, Tom and Jessica - also Jim Beaver. This movie is gothic manna from heaven.

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CgVVQB9XIAA8ya8.jpg

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