October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me!
Crimson Peak (2015)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain
Okay, I know I’m skipping some days, since I’ve gotten behind due to illness, but I wanted to get this up for the weekend. The movie offically comes out today, but I was lucky enough to see it last night. Even though I was sick I still dragged myself to the theater and proved the universal rule that when you are seeing a movie alone, sick and looking like shit, you will run into someone you know at the theater. And they will be seated next to you as you try not to cough up a lung during the screening.
The premise is simple enough, Edith (Wasikowska), aspiring novelist and daughter of a wealthy American industrialist has a deep seated belief in the supernatural. She meets Sir Thomas(Hiddleston) and his sister (Chastain), impoverished English gentry, when they come to New York to raise funds to improve their situation. Inevitably, Edith falls in love with Thomas, marries him, and moves back to England with him and his sister, into their sinking ancestral home. Once there, Edith begins to see and hear strange things and begins to suspect that nothing is as it seems.
The primary word I find to describe this movie is sumptuous. Much has been made of Guillermo del Toro’s attention to detail, from the fabrics to the set design, in creating Crimson Peak, and it shows. It is sumptuous even in its depictions of the decay of the ancient mansion. The scenes of violence are filmed almost luxuriously, letting camera linger lovingly on the blood and wounds. Ever scene is beautifully filmed and meticulously framed, and I have a feeling even twenty viewings would not be enough to catch all of the little details and hints hidden in every single shot.
The use of older, practical effects for the ghosts and supernatural occurrences was a strong choice, and they held up much better in the stylized setting than pure CGI would have done. The attention to detail is most evident there, and in the costumes. I watch a lot of costumed period pieces, but I’ve never seen clothes as beautiful and lavish as these. You can see the quality in choice of fabric, stitching, draping, and every single outfit choice, from the slightly out-dated clothes of the siblings who bring Edith to Crimson Peak to Edith’s fashionable turn-of-the century heiress wardrobe. The costumes in this movie are practically characters themselves, and often provide the primary source of color and mood in many of the scene set within the decrepit mansion. Although there is an argument to be made that all of the strange goings on in the movie are simply a result of everyone’s collar being too tight.
The actors are perfectly cast, with Mia Wasikowska giving Edith all the innocence and sincerity of the archetypal Gothic heroine, although a slightly more intelligent one than average. Tom Hiddleston is in his element as the darkly troubled romantic lead with Jessica Chastain putting in a chilling and almost unrecognizable performance as his sister. The dialogue is often clunky and distractingly predictable, and if the actors were less convincing it would be downright cringe-worthy. The plot, too, is thin and doesn’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny. Not that you would expect it to.
Guillermo del Toro set out to pay tribute to classic Gothic Horror, and he’s made a nearly Platonic example of it, amplifying both the good and the bad facets of the art form. Crimson Peak is not a subtle movie. Every move is telegraphed, every revelation heavily foreshadowed. Although one or two tropes are subverted along the way, it is largely predictable from the get-go. And perhaps that was intentional. I don’t think del Toro was trying to make a movie to keep the audience guessing, I think he was trying to make a movie that celebrates a particular style through the sincerest form of flattery. In this, he succeeds.
I also didn’t find this to be a particularly scary movie. Tense, yes, and at times upsetting. But I spent much of the movie poised on the edge of my seat for the jump scare that, for the most part, never came. And while the supernatural was featured prominently, all the scenes that really made me wince were due to entirely earthly causes.
I find it difficult rate this movie. When rating a movie it’s important to look at what it is intended to be and how well it performs it’s function. You don’t give a child’s adventure movie a poor rating because it wasn’t Shakespearean enough. This movie is the epitome of the genre it attempts. And yet, if del Toro had loosened his grip on that vision just a tiny bit, he might have made Crimson Peak objectively better. It’s an enjoyable show, particularly on the big screen where you can best appreciate all the fine scale work that is the movie’s strength. But it doesn’t beg for endless rewatches and it doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said before.