Edith, a young lady with the occasional talent for seeing her dead mother, is pursued by and falls for Thomas, a once wealthy land owner from England who’s intentions are far from romantic. After the death of her father, she moves to England with Thomas and his sister, Lucille, but when more ghosts start paying her visits Edith knows the future bodes ill.
A new Guillermo del Toro film is always something we at Fanboy Confidential get a little excited about, as his films are what brought a lot of us together.
Always visually stunning and more often than not geek-centric, his output swings from comic-style massiveness to artfully low-key depending on his own personal inclinations and the general whims of the suits at the studios.
Usually his decision to indulge in quiet, gothic stories of a more personal nature are accompanied with a smaller budget and Spanish language (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth), but not so this time. His latest project, Crimson Peak, a gothic tale of romance, ghosts and murder, has a huge budget and a few of the hottest actors in the business.
Unsurprisingly, it’s gorgeous, with the kind gothic designs, detail and lighting that a Hammer Horror film dreams it could have. It’s with Hammer that a lot of the visual and thematic influence lies, but more recent abstract European cinema may be more influential in regards to the use of colour; an aspect that Crimson Peak lives or dies by.
As with most of his films, del Toro has written the piece with one eye constantly on visual potential. Only with this kind of writing style could we ever expect to see something as striking as a hill that bleeds liquid clay when it snows, or more signature del Toro tropes such as ghosts that bleed weightless blood or leaves that fall inside an abode.
Added together these wonderful designs, the lighting, the cinematography, the visual FX and costumes make a film as lovely as you will ever see, yet somehow it’s grounded enough to not be constantly pointing out how much effort has been put into such things and how far beyond the average period drama it has set its ambitions.
And ambitious it is, on a story level too, aiming its sights somewhere between the Bronte Sisters, Dickens and Bram Stoker, of which it hits home pretty confidently. Unfortunately this manor of high gothic romance causes some form of empathetic rift with the viewer, or at least it did with this viewer.
I personally found little in the way of relatability to any of the characters, which isn’t always necessary to enjoy a story but in this case I found the characters, emotional beats and story structure to be echoes of things we’ve seen many, many times and done better, only becoming notably affecting when fused with visual quirks or the occasional interjection of some pretty wince-worthy ultra-violence.
Tom Haddleston and Jessica Chastain go really big but with conviction and come off the more memorable for it, Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam don’t fare so well, never quite breaking free of the overused character beats they’re working with, something they have in common with the rest of the cast, barring Jim Beaver, who distinguishes himself in the role of Edith’s father.
In story and character Crimson Peak is far from original, but it separates itself from the pack with singular visual idiosyncrasies that extend to a rich palate, unusual concepts, creepy atmosphere and graphic violence. You’ll be spooked and wowed but not necessarily gripped.