Guillermo Del Toro is a master of horror. Surprisingly, he is also a master of romance too. Gothic romance that is. Crimson Peak (2015), Del Toro’s latest foray into the directing world is a suspenseful, atmospheric, and beautifully crafted piece. It is also a telling exploration of love, and the forbidden temptations it brings with it. Because we all know that beneath the handsome façade of those we fall in love with, are the devilish and shadowy skeletons hiding in their closest. Which in this case turns out to be both literal and figurative.
In the words of Edith, Crimson Peak isn’t a ghost story; it is instead a story that features ghosts. Each one serving as a metaphor for the way in which our past indiscretions never really remain ‘dead and buried’. The tale focuses on young protagonist, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an eligible, sophisticated, and no-holds barred woman, who after tragedy befalls her, finds herself swept up into the arms of the dashing and debonair Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Whisked away to Allerdale Hall with the English lad and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith finds herself faced with life in an abode that is not only slowly decaying, but hiding within it a malevolent force. With the creaks and groans of the night growing louder, and the honeymoon dream slowly turning into nightmare, Edith is left with only one option; to uncover the real truth as to what lies beneath Crimson Peak.
Despite the film being labelled as part of the horror-genre, to class the film as such is a disgrace to its depth. Instead, it plays out as a fractured fairy-tale, from the moment the camera pans onto the title as if it were the cover of a book we were reading, all the way through to the lines plucked craftily from Elizabethan classics. This be a story of monsters, which come not always as the terrors lurking in the walls, or the spectres down the dark and unlit corridors, but buried within the people we love. Hate and desire are both passionate emotions, and they are after all, so very closely entwined.
The real achievement though is Del Toro’s proficiency for cinematography. If you see the movie for nothing other than the visuals, you will not be disappointed. At once both engrossing and meticulous, Del Toro masterfully crafts his scenes to be portraits of breathe-taking, striking and unnerving awe. Never once do we see the colour red in a scene that does not feature some form of other-worldly essence. And never once do we ever feel like the cinematic auteur isn’t giving 110%. The walls ‘breath, bleed, and remember’, like the real living entity they are, with red clay oozing from beneath the floorboards, snow gently falling through the decaying hole in the ceiling, and the ground outside the manor bleeding into a startlingly scarlet as winter fast approaches. Like watching a wound tear open in slow motion, viewing the film is intense and graphic, yet so remarkable that despite your best efforts, you can’t actually look away.
Whilst Hiddleston is easily the best thing to look at in the film (as Stephen Colbert said in his recent interview with the cast, he does show his *English Countryside* after all), and Wasikowska is fresh and enlivened as our hero Edith, the show belongs entirely to Chastain. She is almost unrecognizable from her turn in The Martian (2015), channeling a ferocity and sternness that shows you why she is one of the best emerging talents in Hollywood. Meryl Streep should watch her back, because the future of female film roles may have finally found a replacement. She is supprted strongly though by Hiddleston, who charms his way through the piece and is likely the reason the film has an estimated 60% female audience. It’s understandable too though, with his and Wasikowska’s sex scene alone making the price of the ticket worth it. The grin he pulls there is to die for. The only true disappointment though comes in the fact that Charlie Hunnam is under-utilised in his role as Dr Alan McMichael. The Sons of Anarchy (2008) star gives a strong effort, but there’s just not enough time dedicated to his character to make him more meaningful than a one-dimensional veneer for the classic ‘love triangle’.
What is also shameful with a piece this elegant, is how poorly it has landed with audiences. In America it opened to a solid, yet disappointing $13 million dollar weekend. Sure it was up against strong contenders, like family fare Goosebumps (2015) and megalith The Martian (2015), but it would seem that fans of cinema are continuing to turn away from more complex and graphic storytelling, for lighter popcorn fare. Whilst perhaps not the easiest of films to swallow; Crimson Peak is a film that once again reflects Del Toro’s style and storytelling, and the compelling way he can make the grotesque beautiful. The man's genius is in how his films symbolism eats away at your soul and your mind, not content to simply strive for a broken heart like most other pieces do. This one in particular does just that, ruining you from the inside out; just as the red seeps through every pore of Allerdale Hall, and the butterflies perish to the dying of the light.
Rating: 4 butterflies out of 5
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