Crimson Peak review: It's gorgeous and spooky, but not the horror movie you expect from Guillermo del Toro

Mihir Fadnavis

Oct 18, 2015 11:20:56 IST

What the heck is Crimson Peak? Is it some weird metaphor for blood? Is it the name of a mountain? Or does it mean the color of the moon when the werewolves come out to prey? It is a mystery you can unlock while watching the film. But the title is also a nod to director Guillermo Del Toro who, while working in the genre most beloved to him, is at his creative best.

When it works, Crimson Peak is great filmmaking. As noises creak, silent whispers float around and shadows show up in the corner of the frames, Del Toro’s deep and genuine love for the macabre reflects on the screen with expert painterly effects. He has perfected the art of spooking the audience out with Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, so the frightening stuff in Crimson Peak feels like a master fiddling around with his favorite playthings.

 Crimson Peak review: Its gorgeous and spooky, but not the horror movie you expect from Guillermo del Toro

A scene from Crimson Peak. Screengrab from the trailer

But if you’re looking for a pure horror film, you’ll be disappointed. Del Toro has attempted something far more challenging this time. Crimson Peak is in fact a gothic tragic romance, with a few ghosts tucked away as a backdrop. The monsters aren’t the centerpiece here. Love can turn people into monsters, the film says, and succeeds fairly well in proving that point.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young writer in 19th century England. After her father (Jim Beaver) dies in a mysterious bathroom accident, she gets married to the handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and moves to his faraway manor. Things immediately don’t seem right: the house is 100% haunted and Sharpe’s sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) doesn’t seem very warm towards Edith. There is a piano next to a hole in a ceiling through which snow slowly falls, a lift that goes to a basement filled with strange compartments, and shadowy images of another person in the house. As she explores the manor, Edith takes the audience on a Haunted House ride and uncovers some chilling secrets.

With the monsters forming just a minor aspect of a larger story, Edith herself writes a romantic story with a ghost as its backdrop. You expect that to be the most on-the-nose scene of the film but things often get unsubtle. Some of the underlying themes of madness induced by tragedy are hurled in loud shrieking tones, which feel out of sync in a film that is otherwise so quietly creepy. These unsubtle elements take center stage during the third act when the film sags under its own weight and fails to go the extra mile story wise. Everything that happens in the finale has been done before many times in Korean cinema, and Del Toro focuses more on wowing us with the production design rather than with his trademark ironic macabre, which unfortunately only shows up in bits in spurts.

None of this takes away from the merits of Crimson Peak, but it certainly makes us wish Del Toro had hired writers who would have made the third act thematically more disturbing and expansive. The doomed romance angle is filmed exquisitely, but it gets over in a jiffy and culminates in generic thrills, indicating some vital bits might have been left on the cutting room floor.

Crimson Peak moves briskly and feels like a film based on an Emily Bronte novel. There’s not a dull moment - you’re either quaking in your seat with fear, or drooling at the 19th century English imagery. The Heathcliffe-like Hiddleston and the chilly Chastain are incredibly effective in their roles, as is Wasikowska who played a similar character in Stoker two years ago. Refreshingly, the ghostly stuff is laid out in the very opening scene. Unlike in most films, the spectre shows up in the first five minutes in a hair raising scene where Edith is grabbed by hands you wish you never come close to, let alone be touched by.

If you’re looking for a tragic romance wrapped in a gigantic canvas of epic production design and photography, Crimson Peak is your fix. It’s always a special moment when a Del Toro film hits theaters and there’s always something fascinating to look at in every one of his frames. In an era where cheap horror films seem to be the big formula, it’s nice to have a big budget horror film playing in 2D IMAX screens for a change.

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Updated Date: Oct 18, 2015 11:21:24 IST