Director – Guilermo Del Toro
Writers – Guilermo Del Toro, Matthew Robins
Starring – Mia Wasikowa, Tom Hiddlestone, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunman
In my desire to composite a list of ten films all horror fans must see from 2015, I’ve decided to watch as many as humanly possible. Next on the list comes Del Toro’s return to the genre, Crimson Peaks, which alongside It Follows, and the as-of-yet unreleased The Witch, has been considered a part of horror’s recent revival in quality, and was genuinely considered bloody scary. Featuring a stellar cast, and the visionary who brought us the magnificent Pan’s Labyrinth, what could possibly go wrong? The answer is a lot.
In 1887, young Edith Cushing (Wasikowa), daughter of wealthy businessman Carter Crushing (Jim Beaver), is visited by the ghost of her dead mother, who warns her to stay away from Crimson Peaks. Fourteen years later, supposedly wealthy Baron, Thomas Sharpe (Hiddlestone), arrives in America to ask for Cushing’s support in a clay mining endeavour, meanwhile winning the favour of young Edith. After turning him down initially, and then discovering a dark secret about Sharpe, Cushing agrees to finance his project on the condition he breaks his daughter’s heart, and promises to leave America. He does so, but in a twist of fate, Cushing is murdered later that night by an unknown assailant. With her father gone, Edith falls for Sharpe’s charms and moves to their run-down mansion atop a clay mine, and lives with his frosty and un-endearing sister Lucille (Chastain). Pretty soon bad happenings begin, and a mystery begins to unfold, as Cushing’s physician Dr.McMichael attempts to discover the truth back home.
Firstly, let’s talk about colour. The use of filters and editing throughout this film is erratic to say the least. Sometimes it’s a striking green (like The Matrix sequels), more towards the beginning, and it takes you right out of the story as it just feels overly stylised. Then, towards the end, the colour scheme takes a dramatic shift and puts a grey tint on things, which is actually really good, mostly when done outside. It’s erratic and inconsistent, and ruins the cinematography which is mostly good, and occasionally excellent.
The ghosts, which were the film’s major marketing point, are CGI monstrosities, in all the bad ways. They look more odd than terrifying, and the fact that they are pretty poorly rendered makes them almost laughable. If one compares it to Del Toro’s prosthetic work on Pan’s Labyrinth, the difference is remarkable. They simply don’t work at all, and for me dragged the whole thing down.
The story is sadly predictable; I had it pretty much entirely pegged half way through, including every single twist, which is worrying. Great cinema leaves you guessing and wondering, and this all very ‘well, I saw that coming.’ The screenplay is almost sadly predictable.
The characterisation is also really poor, and extremely disappointing. Edith is a writer; this means she should be intelligent and full of intuition, at least one would assume. Instead, she has the intuition of a loaf of bread. Lord Sharpe is simply broody, and a charisma and charm vacuum. Strange, because Hiddlestone is a pretty charismatic fella. Arguably, the most interesting character is Lucille, Sharpe’s sister; she genuinely has an underlying sense of mystique and wonder to her. Unfortunately, she’s frosty from the start, so any ambiguity is out the window.
The tension is non-existent, I’m not even sure if I’d call this a horror film. If it was meant to be one, it completely missed the mark. It comes off more as a mystery film with ghosts in it…for some reason. Like an odd Hardy Boys spin off featuring the ghosts from The Pirates Of The Carribbean franchise, culminating in incest.
Oddly the film morphs into a slasher movie for the last third, that part is actually pretty bloody great. It’s quite tense, well shot, well executed, violent without being overkill…it works. Just a shame it comes right at the end, when it feels a little too late. It also hints at a much more interesting movie that could have possibly happened.
All said and done, in a year in which horror was reborn from the ashes like a great bloody phoenix, Crimson Peak has to be considered potentially the weakest of them all. Devoid of any mystery or suspense, as everything is sadly predictable, the film is left as absolutely nothing. A pointless exercise for all involved.