February 6, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. (2015, 119 min).

Though the story is often perfunctory, Crimson Peak is dripping with atmosphere, as one would expect from director Guillermo Del Toro. It's also a welcome return to the type of gothic horror which first made him famous. As such, this is the kind of film where you turn out all the lights, nestle-in and let it slowly envelope you, logic be damned.

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith, an aspiring 19th Century novelist haunted by the ghost of her mother with a dire warning: "Beware of Crimson Peak". When she's courted by English aristocrat & inventor Thomas Sharpe, Edith's father, Carter (Jim Beaver), tries to prevent this, suspecting Thomas and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), aren't quite who they seem and have ulterior motives. He turns out to be right, but is brutally murdered before he can really intervene. Edith marries Thomas and relocates to England with him and his sister. Crimson Peak, the nickname of their mansion, is architecturally-elaborate but rapidly decaying because, despite their aristocratic status, the Sharpes are actually broke. Meanwhile, other ghosts show up to warn Edith of the horrors ahead, while Thomas & Lucille’s motives (and icky relationship) soon become apperant. Still, Edith continues to stick around because Lucille’s been slowly poisoning her.

Yes...there's a spider on the ceiling.

Storywise, Crimson Peak travels a familiar path, and few of its plot-reveals are particularly surprising or original. Not only that, it heavily relies on Edith stupidly remaining at the house long after it becomes obvious everyone's out to get her (one would think numerous warnings from her dead mother would convince her to get the hell out of there). However, the film makes-up for lapses in logic with atmospheric dread, technical virtuosity (much like Dario Argento’s early classics) and great performances. Crimson Peak establishes a dark, foreboding tone from the very first scene and seldom lets-up. Despite its deliberate pace, we never escape the feeling that something awful will happen at any given moment. The film is also visually arresting. The mansion is a triumph of production design (practically a character itself) and the cinematography finds morbid beauty in even the bleakest imagery. Del Toro masterfully immerses the viewer in this world much like he did with Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone.

Along with terrific performances - especially Hiddleston & Chastain - and some well-timed moments of jarring violence, Crimson Peak is a superlative example of style over substance, helmed by a director who’s been away from the genre far too long. It didn’t really connect with audiences in theaters, which is too bad because that’s arguably where it would be best appreciated. Still, any longtime Del Toro fan will find a lot to love.

  • Featurettes: "I Remember Crimson Peak"; "A Primer on Gothic Romance"; "Hand Tailored Gothic" (costume design); "A Living Thing" & "Beware of Crimson Peak"
  • (both of them detail the impressive set design of the house); "Crimson Phantoms" (ghost design...mostly not CGI!); "The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak"
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Commentary by Guillermo Del Toro
  • DVD & Digital Copies

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