Crimson Peak

Jessica Chastain  in Crimson Peak. (Universal Pictures)
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak. (Universal Pictures)

What it's about:

In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds, and remembers.

What we thought:

Horror films are not commonly known for their artistry, but Guillermo del Toro is the kind of director that can make your worst nightmares look like majestic artwork. Although Crimson Peak unfortunately suffers from a predictable, clichéd story and dreary dialogue, the bold crimson colours of the set design, costumes and the most vivid yet disturbing depiction of ghosts I have ever seen, makes for a delectable feast for the eyes. 

A young American writer (Mia Wasikowska) trying to escape the bonds of her gender in society, becomes enamoured with a mysterious English nobleman (Tom Hiddleston) and marries him after a tragedy. Moving continents to live with her new husband and his distant sister (Jessica Chastain) on their family’s estate, she starts to suspect her new home might have a few secrets to tell her.

At first glance Crimson Peak appears to be a unique gothic horror that stands out from the current horror genre. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the film captures the past in a romanticised light, heavily stylised with influences from the gothic romance novels of the Brontë Sisters. But by far the most interesting yet unsettling artwork is the ghosts that haunt the the young bride. Instead of your traditional creepy distortions that still resemble some humanlike qualities, Del Toro’s ghosts have a fluid temporality, looking as if they are stuck in the flow of time and distorted into spindly limbs that creep into crevice. They are similar to that of the Mama ghost, but are more horrifyingly gorgeous, their pain revealed in their beauty.

Despite its beauty, and one of the loveliest colour palette’s to be used in film, Crimson Peak never flowers into something unique in terms of story. Unlike Del Toro’s imaginative Pan’s Labyrinth, which is still one of the best out there, his gothic horror becomes trapped in predictability and a script devoid of interesting dialogue. One of the most important traits of a good horror is not only its ability to scare but to have twists that you don’t see coming, and unfortunately any audience will see the ‘secrets’ of the Sharpe siblings a mile away. Also, the plot leaves behind certain themes or aspects established early in the movie, such as the leading lady’s desire to write ghost stories, but as soon as she moves to isolation she doesn’t write again once. The film also starts with strong feminist themes about the role of women in 20th century society, but this idea also disappears throughout until it reappears right at the end. 

The characters also do not evoke much empathy from the audience, but also not strong feelings of dislike. This is not due to the cast members of the film, which was a strong casting choice, but instead this is a result of how the characters were written and their dialogue. Del Toro both wrote and directed Crimson Peak, and although I can’t fault his directing, something went a bit amiss during the writing process.

Despite the uninspiring story, I still enjoyed Crimson Peak for its decent though mild scare machinations and beautiful art direction, making it worthwhile for the fans of Del Toro’s work and Tom Hiddlestoners. If you also wish to embrace the spirit of Halloween but have weak nerves, I would recommend the gothic horror, where the real horror is that of the humanity, instead of the restless dead.