Oftentimes, one’s enjoyment of a film is based on their expectations. If you are expecting greatness, it is hard to reach that mark. If you are expecting slop, even a bit of pleasure can elevate your enjoyment of an otherwise dull film. So it is that Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak will either leave you hot or cold depending on your view going into it.
At times, the film feels strictly like an homage to Gothic romanticism and that it is not meant to be taken seriously. If everything is tongue in cheek and you enter the theater expecting an appreciation of the genre, you are liable to have a good time. If you are looking for an original film that adds something new to horror and generally frightens you, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Our protagonist is Edith (Mia Wasikowska). Edith’s mother dies when she is young, but returns to her as a ghost one night, telling her to beware of Crimson Peak. An aspiring author as she grows up, she meets a young, British businessman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), looking for financial backing from her father, and she falls for him. After her father’s mysterious death, Edith goes with Thomas to England with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But the spirits of the mansion do not sleep well and soon begin calling to Edith. That’s when she learns what it is nicknamed: Crimson Peak, for the red clay that the factory underneath it produces.
First off, it is important to commend del Toro and his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen for their beautiful film. Every frame looks like a painting, the colors vibrant and the hues of every shot warm and deep. It really transports you into the world of the story.
del Toro’s love of his macabre subject is also evident. The romanticism, the attention to detail, the layering of moodiness and the time given to set up the story show his dedication and appreciation. It is something that draws fans of his work back time and again; he loves what he does and it shows on the screen.
The problem with the film lies in its story. With such high profile talent behind the camera and in front of it (all the actors work very well in their roles), it is a shame that the narrative is rather trite and predictable. Part of that may simply be the joke of the film, that the plot does not really matter and should be treated lightly, but the lack of original narrative, compounded by the fact that it is easy to guess the plot points before they happen, dampens the enjoyment. A script that contained more narrative originality with unpredictable plot points and revelations and more mystery, with the already impressive cast and gorgeous cinematography, would have made Crimson Peak a real winner, but it must settle for just being entertaining.
Yet having said that, the story serves its purpose if only just. The film is fun and engaging, not really a horror film (there are few scares) but more of a romance. The connection between Thomas and Edith and their journey is sweet in that macabre sense and, dare I say, a tad moving at the film’s conclusion. It is a fitting film for a genre that has been so neglected recently, and it may not particularly have an audience, but for those who appreciate dark romanticism, it is worth a viewing.
Many will be confused as to what Crimson Peak actually is: a misplaced horror movie that doesn’t quite deliver or an inside joke that plays on the plot conventions and bursts with admiration for the genre? It is hard to discern the answer and it may entirely depend on the person, but at least it generates some thinking for the viewer, something most modern horror movies refuse to do.