Saturday, 31 October 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak has been far from a success story for Guillermo Del Toro, struggling at the US Box Office while also disappointing some of the director's most loyal fans. This whole situation is surprising to me however, as I found the film to be a very strong addition to the director's filmography: a rich, atmospheric romantic-horror which perhaps suffered from it's relative uniqueness in a market dominated by low-budget found-footage movies. Indeed, going into this film I had purposefully avoided trailers in an attempt to keep my expectations reasonable, however in interviews with the prolific director I had discovered that romance was as big a part of this film as the horror elements. This is something that I believe most mainstream movie-goers were not expecting as the first act of the film - which is essentially just a romantic drama - was not spotlighted in the trailers very heavily. Indeed, were you to arrive at the movie theater expecting non-stop scares in a house riddled with ghosts then I could perhaps understand you'd be disappointed, if only because what you got wasn't what you thought you'd be getting.

That being said, it would be unfair to criticize Crimson Peak too heavily just because the trailer was misleading, and I would encourage those people who found themselves in the situation outlined above to give the film another chance now that they know exactly what they're getting into. If you take Crimson Peak for what it is - a Gothic romance first and a horror film second - then you may well get more out of the film than you did upon first viewing. But I digress. This is supposed to be a review, not a sales pitch after all.
Crimson Peak tells the compelling story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), a woman struck by tragedy at a young age and literally haunted by it for many years afterwards. Struggling to make her own path in life in a world which seems poised against her, things begin looking up for Edith when the dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe enters her life and offers her all the love and support she's failed to find elsewhere. Of course, things aren't as they seem and the menacing presence of Sharpe's sister Lucille (wonderfully portrayed by Jessica Chastain), brings an uneasy feeling to the largely horror-less first act. Indeed, while I'll admit that during these scenes I was eager for the action to move to the ominous mansion this film takes its name from, this opening act was an effective way of getting the audience to invest in the film's main cast - particularly the naive Edith who is instantly easy to sympathise with, thanks in large part to Wasikowska's innocent performance. Innocent at first that is, but as the film progresses each and every character comprising the main cast goes to interesting and unexpected places, a welcome sight given that the character's in Del Toro's previous feature Pacific Rim left something to be desired.

Although the character work on display here is impressive, it could be argued that the greatest character in the film is the mansion that sits atop Crimson Peak. Much of the house was actually built for the movie, a refreshing change of pace from the CGI practices usually found in Hollywood productions today. Thanks to the absence of a computer and the presence of some truly gifted designers, the house has a very lived-in feel to it; watching the characters walk its creaky corridors you get a real idea that the house has history. It's very easy to believe that generations of people have lived and died there and that there are likely secrets held within its wall that not even Thomas and Lucille are aware of. All this creates a film that is less scary than it is consistently atmospheric, something which ultimately I find more interesting and engaging.


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