“Crimson Peak” Review: More Fun Than Frightening
Crimson Peak has engaging, literary storytelling and fabulous monster design. It’s a beautifully shot period piece; even intense moments of gore seem tasteful when they look this slick and shiny. Jessica Chastain is wholly arresting. Yet something is missing from Guillermo del Toro’s latest macabre fantasy.
As the old Monty Python quote goes, “Our chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear.” Crimson Peak isn’t as surprising as del Toro might have hoped, and the few scares fade fast. If you’re the kind of viewer who likes to put the pieces together, you’ll get the picture long before Mia Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing does. Edith is a young American heiress and aspiring novelist. Courted by a steady but dull young doctor (Charlie Hunnam), she prefers a dark, mysteries English baronet named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). It’s a set-up directly from the pages of Brontë or Austen, a flattering and not unjustified comparison that the film makes explicit.
Only the naivety that Wasikowska brings to the role would allow Edith to overlook the obvious signs of danger. Beyond her loving father (Jim Beaver)’s disapproval and the icy antagonism of Thomas’s sister Lucille (Chastain), there are the ghostly warnings of Edith’s long-dead mother. The ghost design is spectacular and original: black bones, a wreath of black vapor, a rapidity of movement. It’s easy to be impressed, but hard to be afraid. The ghost’s appearances come with warnings — Edith’s narration and tell-tale horror movie tricks like music crescendos — that dampen the tension. Del Toro is generous in showing off his ghosts, lingering long enough for fascination to overcome revulsion.
From her world of cozy, wood-paneled bedrooms and Gilded Age bathrooms in gold and marble hues, Edith transitions to the Sharpes’ grim and decaying English country manor. This, too, is a beautifully-staged environment despite its ruinous state. You can tell the change of seasons by what is falling through the rotted ceiling — leaves in the fall, snow in the winter. Stuff comes through the walls and floors, too: gooey clay that Thomas wants to excavate and sell.
There are ghosts here as well, of course. Tormented ones whose grasping, skinless bodies suggest visceral agony. Remarkable as they look, they don’t seem particularly frightening even to Edith; Wasikowska stares vacantly at one writhing its way down a hallway. These occasional apparitions provide Edith with clues, but the real horror is happening among the living. Lucille and Thomas’s behavior grows stranger, and Lucille, in particular, seems barely able to contain her hatred for Edith.
As Lucille, Chastain runs a gamut of Id emotions, and makes the increasingly juicy material even more fun than it probably is on paper. By the end, she has stolen the show from del Toro’s ghosts, not to mention her costars Wasikowska and Hiddleston, and the fun she is having places Lucille Sharpe among her best roles.
Nothing else about Crimson Peak leaves quite the impression that it should. I never wanted it to end early, partly because del Toro’s aesthetic is so pleasant — it’s warmly colored, it always providing something to look at, it’s just grotesque enough that you can easily stare down the scary parts but still feel brave for having done so — and mostly because I kept wanting something more. I wanted to feel more afraid, more shocked, more uncertain about how everything would end.
So where will Crimson Peak peak on Flickchart?
Crimson Peak vs. Pan’s Labyrinth
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) remains del Toro’s masterpiece. The creatures are more inventive and a lot more frightening, and the ending is shocking while still being strangely cathartic. Crimson Peak has a world I’d want to spend more time in, though.
Winner: Pan’s Labyrinth
Pan’s Labyrinth is globally ranked #281
52543 users have ranked it
It wins 60% of its matchups
Crimson Peak vs. Rebecca
Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning film places a young newlywed in her husband’s spooky house, where she slowly learns the history of the place and the people who lived there. Hitchcock fans may scoff at the idea of ranking a del Toro upstart higher, but style points go to Crimson Peak, and Chastain out-acts even Laurence Olivier.
Winner: Crimson Peak
Rebecca is globally ranked #153
4191 users have ranked it
It wins 48% of its matchups
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