Guillermo Del Toro’s name has been proven to be great when it’s on a horror movie. The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) are two that should not be missed by horror lovers. Now, Del Toro adds another solid movie to the list with Crimson Peak. Crimson Peak seems to really draw great ideas from The Devil’s Backbone and beautiful, creepy imagery from Pan’s Labyrinth.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska; Stoker, Alice in Wonderland) is a young woman who, as a child, lost her mother to disease. Edith remembers being visited by her mother’s ghost during the night, with a warning about a place called “Crimson Peak.” As an adult, she is an aspiring writer that likes writing stories that have ghosts in them. Not as “ghost stories,” but as a metaphor for something in the past. However, her book is rejected because the publisher wants her to write romance stories. She is left disappointed, but refuses to give up. She has the support of her father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), a hard-working wealthy industrialist, that gives her an expensive pen to encourage her to keep writing.
It is around this time that two siblings from England, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston; Thor) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain; Zero Dark Thirty, Mama), arrive in America to request investment from Carter and his company in an industrial invention. They have been turned down multiple times before, but are obsessed with pursuing it. It’s a machine that digs up the particular kind of valuable red clay that the Sharpes’ old, decaying mansion sits upon. This red clay is why their property is known as Crimson Peak.
There is something very unsettling and tense at this point of the movie. Edith gave Thomas a manuscript of her book to read, he seems to enjoy her writing and Edith and Thomas have an eye for each other. But, at this point, Carter does not like these siblings nor does he want to invest in the building of the machine. Suspecting that something is very suspect and ominous about them, Carter even less wants his daughter involved with Thomas. So, sensing that Thomas and his daughter have an attraction, Carter writes the siblings a cheque with the condition that they leave back to England the next morning.
This first part of the movie is slow, but effective. There are eerie occurrences – especially noticed by Edith – and a dark mystery behind the Sharpe siblings that the father uncovers through his detective friend, but Edith is oblivious to.
Building of atmosphere and characters creates the meaningful tension, mystery, and overall creepiness for the audience. Crimson Peak is a horror movie and Del Toro didn’t bother tailoring to not receive a restricted MPAA rating. And, as a horror fan, it’s a great welcome. It’s tiring to see so many PG-13 startle-movies that rely on jump scares. Those really do need their own genre designation. Atmospheric-built horror and tension is not the same as being startled because of a sudden loud noise, although, this movie does have a musical score throughout to add tension, it’s not the same as a musical sting. But, sometimes quiet and atmospheric noise – or, at least, ambient music – is better than a full-on score. And, lastly, this movie doesn’t shy away for effective gore.
Later in the movie, when Edith does go to the dilapidated Sharpe mansion, the tone gets darker from the unease of the first part of the movie. She is alone in the large, unstable house with Thomas and his sister. Additionally, his sister becomes very cold to Edith. And, of course, there are many locked rooms which the sister prohibits her from going into on the premise that it could be dangerous if you are not familiar with the mansion due to it falling apart.
The ghosts are ever more present there. They don’t jump out, but are often slowly floating amongst in the shadows with elongated arms and fingers. They stay around corners, behind doors, and slink toward Edith, which exposes their horrific decomposed features. Del Toro’s movies usually have great artwork and creature effects. Crimson Peak has a lot to admire in it. Not only with the ghosts, but the setting, architecture, and much of the clothing. The crimson red clay in the soil is thick and inky, so is the dress that Lucille wears at one point. Edith often wears a striking yellow dress that is crisp and clear on the screen. Even in the darkness, the brown murkiness is clear. The feeling of frigid winter in the old mansion comes right off of the screen, also.
As far as performances go, Mia Wasikowska is excellent. She is in another creepy movie called Stoker, and is Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. She is very talented at taking in the character and not coming off of the screen as “Mia Wasikowska as…” It helps in the immersion. Chastain is also a great chameleon performer. From Zero Dark Thirty to Mama to this, she embodies very different characters. I didn’t even know it was her while watching it. But, it’s not the same with Hiddleston. I kept thinking of Loki from Thor.
Even though the story generally doesn’t break new ground, It would be a shame to spoil anything about the plot, because it does often eschew the expected. But, one thing, unlike Edith’s books, the spirits are not metaphorical. Their slow lurking through an old, shadowy corridor is far creepier and frightening than a jump scare.