By contributor Brendan Barlow
“In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.” – via imdb.com
I will declare my bias up front, and say that I have been itching for Guillermo del Toro to make another horror movie ever since I saw Pan’s Labyrinth, and I will also confess that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Cronos or The Devil’s Backbone, though I admit that both films are beautiful to look at. After really enjoying Pacific Rim, and really hating The Strain, I was starting to feel unsure about the future, and got hugely excited when I saw the first trailer for this particular movie. I admit that I marched into this movie with some lofty expectations, and I am thrilled that I don’t feel disappointed in the slightest.
Crimson Peak is one of those movies that I’m sure will get called a “throwback” and a “love letter” in future reviews, and for good reason—it’s an absolute love letter to gothic ghost stories and the early days of horror cinema. It’s in everything from the old-timey setting, to the amazing (and occasionally hilarious) iris out transitions all throughout the movie. I won’t spend this whole review gushing about it or del Toro, because it does have its issues, but I’m going to get to those later on, don’t you worry. What I will say before getting too specific, is that this is one of the most stunningly beautiful horror films I’ve seen all year, and it (at points) scared the bejesus out of me.
One of the biggest surprises to me wasn’t really about the movie, but about the massive number of pre-teens and families that were at the screening. I have a feeling this is partially the fault of Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice In Wonderland) appearing in the film, but I will say that this movie is absolutely not a family affair. Despite its 14A rating, it deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, and has del Toro’s brand of extremely realistic violence and gore. That said, Hiddleston is the standout actor in the movie; His performance is solid, and he and Jessica Chastain (The Martian) have a really bizarre and fantastic chemistry on screen. Conversely, Wasikowska and he have the chemistry of a cheese sandwich. Also starring here are Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Burn Gorman (Torchwood) and, of course, the fabulous del Toro regular, Doug Jones. Everyone does a pretty good job, and even Wasikowska isn’t bad in this movie; she does quite well when she isn’t required to have physical romantic chemistry with anyone. You could argue that her and Hiddleston aren’t supposed to have chemistry based on what is revealed, but I digress.
As I mentioned, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Del Toro’s aesthetic is all over this movie, from the design of the house to the design of the ghosts, and the overall look and feel of the movie. Apparently the intent was to make this look like a work from Mario Bava (Black Sunday), and I’d say he hit that on the head using modern techniques. This is clearly a movie made by someone with a real love and understanding of what they are going for. The ghosts in the film are frightening and beautiful at the same time, which can be hard to get your head around, and even little things that don’t make sense are forgiven because of how beautiful they look in the film. Two examples of that: Leaves fall through a hole in the roof despite there not being any trees tall enough to do that, and there is a hallway with horrifying spikes in the archway for no reason other than them being menacing.
There are a couple of laughable moments in the movie, considering the kind of movie this is. A great example is that Tom Hiddleston’s character spends the whole movie dressed like Edgar Allan Poe, and his sister looks like the evil queen in a Tim Burton movie, and yet Edith’s father can’t figure out what it is that feels “wrong” about them. They’re a hair away from being vampires, but again, it fits with this style of ghost story. It’s not really about subtlety, it’s about that specific look, so really I don’t see that as a problem, just something that added a bit of levity to a rather frightening experience.
The weakest part of the movie is that it feels like pieces are missing. There are some threads in the plot that are picked up and dropped immediately, like Charlie Hunnam’s character’s interest in the paranormal, which made the movie feel incomplete. The run time is a pretty neat and tidy two hours, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were chunks taken out in the final stages of the movie. Studios love gutting films, and del Toro strikes me as a guy who would love to make a really long film.
All in all, this one is worth your time. It shows a lot of love for old, gothic stories, like The Haunting, and also a lot of love for those grand scale horror movies that you know and love, like The Shining or The Exorcist. If you’re looking for a horror movie worth seeing in the theatre, this is the one you should see. At this point, it’s the best theatrical experience a horror movie has given me this year, and it’s one you should have. If you’ve been trying to decide where you and your Halloween date should go, this is it. It’s a great date movie, a beautiful horror film, and one that is not to be missed.