Crimson Peak: Review

Written by: Jon Castillo

Film | Oct 18, 2015

Crimson Peak Guillermo Del Toro

"Crimson Peak" is a humble love letter to all ghost stories and haunted houses. It treats those subgenres with loving care and respect. It graces us with a gentle love story, mystery, and a climax that almost made me shit in my pants.

This is a film not everyone will appreciate. It's slow, treading carefully, in how the characters' world changes around them in a surreal pace. It's a glowing hot ember full of suppressed emotions, and shows what it like is to be free.

The film takes place around the late 1800s. Edith Cushing can see ghosts, and uses her supernatural experiences as an inspiration to write ghost stories, which puts her out of place from her peers.

She meets a new pair that comes to town, the Sharpe siblings, Thomas and Lucille. The former has taken an interest in Edith, and the latter plays the role of a vindictive mother.

Watching this, I am reminded of some great horror titles. "Dracula," for instance, comes to mind during the development between Edith and Thomas.  There is sexual passion flaring between them, though nothing too explicit happens anytime soon. And later, I think of "Nosferatu," when we are introduced to Allerdale Hall.

Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" come to mind as well, but only because they were mentioned in the film. They make much more sense during the final third of the film.

The first part of the film may seem unimportant. That it is one overlong exposition that could have been edited down to the first ten minutes of the film. But that shouldn't be so. This first half, shows us Edith Cushing's life. Reading books, writing a novel, and meeting former suitor, Dr. Alan McMichael, just to toss in a broken love triangle in to the mix. All of this, culminates in contrast for the second half of the film.

The second half feels like it's no longer a story about Edith Cushing and the Sharpes. It's now about Allerdale Hall, the Sharpe family estate. It's a decrepit thing; its floorboards moan, it secretes red clay, and snow and leaves cascade through the massive hole in the ceiling. We see many shots of Edith beneath the pale sunlight, basking in the falling snow and fluttering leaves.

As we explore the surreal landscapes of Allerdale Hall, the mention of Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" makes more sense. Something unacceptable by society is happening here, and there are monsters lurking about.

Although, Guillermo Del Toro wastes no time red herring. He stomps the direction, letting us know well that the Sharpes have an agenda. Though, he does lead us into thinking that there's more to it than what is shown. Like, something supernatural to back up the ghosts that have recently appeared.

What is absolutely beautiful here, is we know just as much what everyone knows about the Sharpes, which is nothing. We only know from Del Toro's cue that they intend to do something vile, and that it's been going on for a long time. We peel back the layers one at a time, at the same pace as Edith does. We don't get all the details, but we get enough to understand, including Edith, what's happening, and it's time to get out, now.

All throughout the film, we see the color crimson. It's nearly everywhere. From Lucille's dress, to the ghosts, the walls, the first few drops of water from the faucet, a crimson road leading to Allerdale Hall, and to a bloody tear. All of it, Symbolisms, which require a second viewing to understand fully. It shows tragedy, the rise into adulthood, responsibilities, broken love, and of course, gore.

If you're curious about what ghosts look like, tell yourself this, "Crimson Peak" is directed by Guillermo Del Toro. The mastermind behind films "Hellboy," "Hellboy 2," "Blade 2," "The Strain," "Don't be Afraid of the Dark," and "Pan's Labyrinth." All of which, have unique monsters and twisted fairytales. It's no surprise that the ghosts we see in "Crimson Peak" are creepy and eye-twitching. Their corporeal forms, resembling their rotting, physical corpses.

If there is one nitpick here, it's Dr. Alan McMichael. His role in the first half of the film is understandable. He is, a third wheel, accepting in silent mourning, that Edith is with another man. Though he holds no contempt whatsoever, we just feel sorry for him. (He's up against Tom Hiddleston, for crying out loud, and so many girls dig him for some reason.)

However, in the second part, he still shows up once in a while. There's nothing for him to do, but discover some foul play. He learns buried secrets, which we do not need, as Edith uncovers them by herself. His only purpose, it seems, is just to buy enough time for Edith not be killed, followed with the bittersweet possibility of finally becoming a couple. But the aftermath of things are indeed traumatic, how either of them can  remain sane, is no longer our business, but still an interesting question.

While the film is slow, it does have its share of jump scares, and leads viewers into thinking something will happen by playing frightening music. It should be appreciated by the folks who like that sort of thing, but as a whole, it feels out of place.

On a side note: Guillermo Del Toro had been working on two videogame projects, Insane and Silent Hills, which were both cancelled. The frustration must have gotten into Del Toro, as "Crimson Peak" feels like a videogame: girl trapped in a house, free to explore, haunted by things. She finds audio logs in the form of wax cylinders, the equivalent of journals and voxophones, where she pieces each clue together, unraveling the grand scheme.

In my opinion, "Crimson Peak" is not among Guillermo Del Toro's strongest films. He has written and directed far more interesting films in the past that had a faster pace, were truly terrifying without resulting to cheap jump scares, and had better fleshed out characters that we can like. "Crimson Peak" however, is a gorgeous view to look at, like a painting by Pablo Picasso. You either get it or you don't. 

About the author: Jon Castillo

Jonathan is hiding from a lynch mob after messing with the wrong basketball team. His favorite song is "Boys do Fall in Love" by Robin Gibb.

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