Crimson Peak – Film Review by Stephen McDermott
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
It’s alive! Nearly a decade since it was conceived, Crimson Peak is set to be unleashed on cinemas throughout the world.
With ‘only’ $55 million to play with, Guillermo del Toro had to make do with just a quarter of the money that was pumped into his 2013 blockbuster Pacific Rim. But with the film already described as “lavish” by its Oscar-winning director and “electrifying” by Stephen King, the hype suggests that it’s just as much of a monstrosity.
And what a monstrosity it is. When writer-heroine Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is compared to Jane Austen in the film’s opening minutes, the realisation that del Toro has created a truly spine-chilling piece of cinema comes in almost record time.
It’s the same sinking feeling that comes whenever some secondary character becomes separated from the main group in every slasher flick ever. “NO”, we cry. “DON’T DO IT!” But with the beast beginning to snarl, there’s no escape from the trite literary references.
Edith defiantly responds that she feels more like Mary Shelley, explaining herself by saying that at least Shelley died a widow (unlike Austen, who died unmarried). All hope is swallowed whole by the universally acknowledged truth that a single woman in possession of a good fortune is in desperate need of a man for the sake of character development.
Literary scoffing and feminist high-horsing might seem like a particularly elitist stick to beat the film with. But there’s enough clichés and bungled attempts at being clever to make any audience feel spooked. Cringe-inducing dialogue and unlikeable protagonists are what the Crimson Peak beast feeds on.
During its destructive rampage, Crimson Peak sees Edith marry the mysterious Englishman Sir Thomas Spence (Tom Hiddleston) following the equally mysterious death of her father (Carter Cushing). After Edith’s marriage, she moves to live with in Spence’s mansion in England with his equally mysterious and male-dependant sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
As if enough damage hadn’t already been done Stateside, the beast wreaks even more havoc in England, devouring accents, characterisations, and Victorian mise-en-scene. As it does so, it takes the frightful form of a picture by someone who decided to make a haunted-house period drama based on watching five minutes of Downton Abbey.
Having cut his teeth with acclaimed low-budget horrors like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, we desperately wait for del Toro to come and rescue us. But it appears that del Toro isn’t coming, his ability for subtlety seemingly consumed by big money productions.
Sure the film has decent special effects, and does an okay impression of a Gothic drama. But it doesn’t matter when its references fall flat and even the costumes are an eyesore, contriving to look both too dated and too modern for the film’s late-Victorian setting.
As Sharp says during his first dance with Edith: “I’ve always closed my eyes to things that make me uncomfortable; it helps make things easier.” With regard to this monster, it’s sound advice; what you can’t see, won’t hurt you.