Crimson Peak

Posted by Joel Copling on October 15, 2015

There is a significant gap between the warning our heroine receives about the titular structure of "Crimson Peak" and when we reminded of it again, which is the cleverest bit of misdirection in the screenplay by Matthew Robbins and director Guillermo del Toro. By the way, this is some structure. It's a derelict manor house that hasn't lost a bit of its visual glory, even as it sinks into the clay-filled grounds upon which it rests. Tom Sanders's production design is as lush as it is stark--beautiful as it is sorrowful. In other words, it's a perfect match to the film to which it belongs, because this is a commendably Gothic, almost tragic approach to the haunted-house story.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author who has written a ghost story--well, that's not exactly true. It's a story that happens to have a ghost, but that ghost is a metaphor, she tells the man who rejects the manuscript on the grounds of its superficial elements, for the past and how it becomes something of a ghost. This is also an obvious bit of foreshadowing for the kind of predicament in which Edith finds herself by the time she has married Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a handsome, well-to-do clay miner from across the ocean. They marry, and Edith accompanies Thomas back to his isolated mansion. Thomas' sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) is less than enthusiastic, though, to say the least.

Family secrets, both of Edith (who lost a mother to disease as a child and only has her father, played by Jim Beaver) and of these mysterious Sharpe siblings (whose relationship is complicated, to say the least), make their way to the foreground of the film's narrative before long, transforming it into a soap opera of sorts (not a bad thing at all), occasionally interrupted by the freakish appearances of a ghoul (played by Doug Jones, that master of otherworldly contortionism) and a subplot involving Charlie Hunnam as Dr. Alan McMichael, a romantic foil for Edith who tracks her down after he uncovers some shocking truths about her new beau.

The distractions barely register enough to truly take anything away from the central plot, although the attempts at horror are weak in the surface element of trying to scare the audience. What matters is what they ultimately represent--a tragedy in the classical sense, relying less on the plot (which, after all, relies itself upon some fairly obvious mysteries) than on these fascinating characters. The performances from two of our primary actors aid immeasurably in maintaining an illusion of security for our protagonist; Hiddleston alternates between icy and conflicted with ease, Wasikowska is appealingly vulnerable, and perhaps best of all, Chastain is phenomenal and vindictive as a deeply, psychologically scarred character of varying complexities.

The finale presents a series of puzzle-box mysteries to be solved. Surprisingly enough, there's still some mystique to this compact universe created by del Toro's vision (many props, too, to Dan Laustsen's lush cinematography that never botches a single shot), even after MacGuffins are revealed to be just that and an all-important whodunit reaches its inevitable conclusion with a curt line of dialogue. The focus on character in this finale is also a surprise, with the series of grotesqueries and an escape to the harsh winter of outside this crenolated structure also representative of the blunt and violent turn of events that take place. "Crimson Peak" reveals early on that it won't settle for mere visual invention and spends the next two hours delivering on that promise.

Film Information

Mia Wasikowska (Edith Cushing), Jessica Chastain (Lucille Sharpe), Tom Hiddleston (Thomas Sharpe), Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael), Jim Beaver (Carter Cushing), Burn Gorman (Holly), Leslie Hope (Mrs. McMichael), Doug Jones (Lady Sharpe), Jonathan Hyde (Ogilvie), Bruce Gray (Ferguson), Emily Coutts (Eunice).

Directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins.

Rated R (bloody violence, sexual content, brief language).

119 minutes.

Released on October 16, 2015.