Written and directed by the acclaimed Guillermo Del Toro, Crimson Peak can best be described as a gothic horror/romance film.
In 1887, Edith Cushing, the young daughter of wealthy American businessman Carter Cushing, is visited by her mother’s ghost who warns her, “beware of Crimson Peak.”
Fourteen years later, Edith is now a budding author who prefers penning ghost stories to writing the romance novels that her editor wants. She meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet who has come to the United States seeking investors, including Edith’s father, for his clay-mining invention. With Edith watching close by, Cushing rejects Thomas’s proposal after being unimpressed with Sharpe’s prototype and previous failures to raise capital. Shortly after, Edith once again is visited by her mother’s spirit bearing the same warning, “beware of Crimson Peak.”
Sir Thomas is determined to persuade Mr. Cushing to change his mind. However, when he and Edith become romantically attached, Cushing and Edith’s childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael, disapprove. Mr. Cushing hires a private detective who uncovers a dark secret about the Sharpes. Mr. Cushing confronts the siblings and bribes them into returning to England. As Cushing insisted he do, Sir Thomas abruptly and cruelly ends his and Edith’s relationship, but the next morning, he sends her a note explaining his actions.
Coincidently or not, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered, though his death is ruled accidental. Edith and Sir Thomas eventually marry and return to England. They arrive at Allerdale Hall, the Sharpes’ deteriorating mansion, which sits atop a red clay mine. As Edith settles in, she finds that Lucille acts somewhat cold toward her while Sir Thomas remains physically distant. Edith is left confused and uncertain by their behaviour.
Soon after, gruesome ghosts begin appearing to Edith throughout the mansion as if attempting to warn her of some kind of impending doom….
Crimson Peak has a lot of things going for it visually; the sumptuous production design is quintessential Del Toro. The amount of detail on display here is an absolute feast for the eyes. The gothic style used lends itself excellently to a haunting ghost story; sadly the film is anything but haunting.
Still, the movie rightly deserves praise for its set design, costumes and backgrounds; it’s downright stunning at times. In particular, Allerdale Hall which stands as the main backdrop for this tale of romance and deceit is masterfully crafted.
Unfortunately, most of my praise for the film stops there as it’s riddled with problems. Firstly, in order for a romance to work and be believable, you need to cast actors that naturally have chemistry on screen and in my opinion Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska have very little. I never really bought their love story and found it quite forced. You just never really get much of an understanding of what is was that Edith loved about Thomas or where her love had suddenly sprung from. I can hear all the fan girls out there screaming “Who wouldn’t immediately fall for him, it’s Tom Hiddleston!” but I’m going to need a little more than that. Basically, not feeling a romance in a film in which it’s very foundation is that romance is a huge flaw.
Another problem for me personally is the actress Mia Wasikowska, other than looking the part I find her to be very bland and uninteresting. Edith, the character she portrays is annoyingly naïve throughout the film. Her father is murdered soon after Thomas breaks it off with her and she doesn’t find that even slightly suspicious? Nope, she marries him and moves away to his home even though her father made it clear he didn’t like the guy. She continuously wanders around Allerdale Hall even after having a number of encounters with ghosts; you’d think she’d never seen anything with the way she carelessly and emotionlessly strolls about with only candlelight to guide her path.
Other than her, Tom Hiddleston does a fine yet fairly predictable performance as Thomas Sharpe. I think the standout has to be Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe, the mysterious sister who’s clearly harbouring some type of dark and sinister secret.
The plot of Crimson Peak plays out much like a fairy tale and like a fairy tale it’s painfully predictable and rehashed yet still enjoyable enough. I won’t spoil anything but some of the reveals are downright obvious because the film makes no attempt to conceal them. Early on we witness a private conversation between Thomas and Lucille which shows us that they’re up to no good from almost the very beginning. Also, Lucille is hostile towards Edith immediately and especially when she spends time alone with Thomas which makes a later reveal the most obvious of all. Why not have Lucille be really kind to Edith and trick the audience into a false sense of security, the later reveals would have been much more shocking. Lucille constantly insists Edith should drink her tea, I bet anyone reading this can guess where that goes because it’s that obvious.
I never found the film to be scary or haunting which is another huge failure. How can you have such an awesome backdrop as Allerdale Hall which just looks spooky by design and fail to garner any true scares. The ghosts that do pop up are nicely designed and practically made but the situations they’re in required use of CGI and it just looks cheap.
I think Del Toro knew the film was failing as a ghost story because by the end the ghosts are left feeling entirely pointless, he must have just said “fuck it, let’s make a slasher movie instead” because that’s what it turns into.
There’s a nice little fight scene at the end between Edith and our incompetent villain but alas it too ends with very little impact.
I didn’t hate Crimson Peak, I just wanted to like it much more because I’m a huge fan of ghost stories set in this time period. With the fantastic visuals and Del Toro at the helm it should have been so much more and will sadly drift from memory quickly. I’d say it’s worth a watch but expect quite a cliché tale that requires you to leave your brain at the door. Crimson Peak was just beautifully underwhelming.
How do you fail to make this place scary!?