Crimson Peak- Gorgeous Gothic ghost story with great horror atmosphere

“Ghosts are real, that much I know.”

So speaks our heroine Edith Cushing, played wonderfully by Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), at the beginning of Guillermo del Toro’s gorgeous Gothic horror film Crimson Peak. The movie wastes no time in showing us said ghosts as a young Edith gets a visitor after her mother’s funeral early on. Things build from there, creating an atmosphere that generates suspense throughout the movie’s 119 minute run time. It may not be loaded with jump scares, dripping with gore, and there’s nary a shaky videocam in sight, but what Crimson Peak does have is terrific visuals with beautiful sets and costumes, great cinematography that makes excellent use of color, and a wonderful cast that delivers on all fronts.

In short, this is very much an old fashioned ghost story. Or, as Edith describes the story she tries to get published, a story that just happens to have ghosts in it.

The film begins with its focus on Edith, an independent minded woman who prefers to do things her own way, much to the chagrin of her father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), and her doctor friend, Alan (Charlie Hunnam). Carter is approached by a mysterious outsider, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who seeks financial back to keep a family clay mine and its estate operational. Thomas is accompanied by his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who comes off a distant and cold. Edith gets smitten with Thomas, especially as he comforts her in the wake of her father’s death. The pair get married and Thomas takes Edith back to his family mansion in England. The mansion is massive but in sore need of repair, with holes in the roof and liquid red clay rising up through floor boards and dripping down basement walls like blood. Edith soon begins seeing frightening apparitions, and learns the secrets behind the estate, nicknamed Crimson Peak for the red clay bleeding up through the snow covered ground.

The story is a familiar one, though as written by director Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) it is well told, with some nice (though predictable) twists. This is a movie that unfolds at a slower pace, though it remains constantly engaging. The cast is terrific, and bring their characters to life beautifully. Wasikowska plays Edith as an idealist tinged with darkness, a haunted innocence who still exudes warmth and compassion, as a nice contrast to Chastain’s Lucille, who is cold, calculating, and she maintains an evil aura about her, as we know from the beginning something is just not right wit this woman. Hiddleston is charming as Thomas, with just enough deviltry that makes us suspect something darker lies beneath the surface. Hunnam plays Alan intelligently, as a man who is obviously quite fond of Edith and probably a preferred match by Carter for his daughter.

But it’s the mansion, Crimson Peak itself, that shines as the central character here. Leaves and snow flutter down through a hole in the roof above massive staircases and soaring arches. The mansion has a menace to it, but it feels almost like a regretful menace, as if it could be so much more if it wasn’t suffering from neglect and disrepair. Winds howl through the wings, creating creaks and moans, as if the house is alive. Hallways contain hidden rooms, opened at opportune times by ghastly specters. The set designers did a marvelous job at bringing the mansion to life, and the use of color, the bright reds and deep blues, only add tot he atmosphere surrounding the building. And one can almost feel the cold coming off the screen as we learn the darker secrets held within the walls.

The ghosts are fully CGI, and while they’re decently designed, they’re more creepy than scary, and telegraph their appearance with plenty of warning. The few jump scares in the movie have been robbed of their effectiveness by showing them off in the trailer (another argument for trailers showing less rather than more to pique prospective audiences’ attention). Fortunately, the atmosphere created by del Toro generates plenty of suspense, and he does it without an overuse of gore or cheap musical cues. This works to the film’s benefit, delivering a more old fashioned horror tale that relies more on characters and storytelling rather than shocks, blood, and cheap thrills. It all adds up to an entertaining viewing experience, which is highlighted further by Fernando Velazquez’s excellent musical score.

In all, Crimson Peak makes for one hell of an entertaining haunted house tale brimming with Gothic romance and atmosphere. What it lacks in outright scares it makes up for in suspense and beautiful cinematography, along with well written characters brought to life by a fantastic cast. Of all of them Chastain’s performance is the most outstanding, as she portrays a woman who will do what she believe sis necessary to have what she wants. It shows its ghosts just enough, never overwhelming us with them or making them so rare as to nearly be forgotten about. The story is well told, even though you’ve seen similar tales before, and has enough twists to hold your interest throughout. There’s even a nice twist in the ending credits (stay in your seat until the screen goes black and the end credits begin their scroll). This is a ghost story that shows once again del Toro’s prowess as a visual filmmaker, and stands alongside his best work easily. Crimson Peak is a nice treat for the Halloween season that’s well worth seeing on the big screen.

“Ghosts are real.” This movie helps make that so.

 

8.5/10

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

Thomas Juretus

Born in 1963. Enjoy videogames, movies, comics- anything that tells a story. Have written three novels (The Zarchler Chronicles Book One: The Cassandra Crisis, Shalgroth The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Two, Madman's War The Zarchler Chronicles: Book Three) all published and available through PublishAmerica. Currently working on my fourth book, a sci-fi/murder mystery.

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