‘Crimson Peak’ Delivers A Bold New Vision of Horror From Guillermo Del Toro (FILM REVIEW)


Guillermo del Toro is a director who’s never lacked for vision. His is an artistry so distinct, so unique, so specific that it bleeds through in every frame of every film that’s ever bore his name. From Cronos, to Hellboy, to Pan’s Labyrinth to Pacific Rim, his films are so striking and so vivid that they’re immediately identifiable as his own. The strength of his eye is such that even the critically maligned, studio-interfered-with Mimic, which del Toro has since disowned, bare the hallmarks of his style so greatly that it serves as, if nothing else, a lesson in visual identity.

I say these things as a primer, and so that the next statement I make holds the proper weight. Del Toro’s latest film, Crimson Peak, is without a doubt the most visually del Toro film that has ever been made, and the results are simply breathtaking.

Like most del Toro films, Crimson Peak isn’t exactly what you might expect it to be after watching the previews. While the previews make it seem as though Crimson Peak is nothing but a mere haunted house story set in Victorian times, the reality is that it’s so much more. “The ghosts are a metaphor,” says the charming debutante Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) as she explains to story she has just written to a would-be publisher. Indeed, this moment serves as a sort of meta-commentary on the film itself, prepping its audiences for the horrific ride they’re about to embark upon.

Cushing lives a charmed life as the daughter of a steel magnate in Buffalo. She’s a dreamer, living comfortable off her father’s fortune as she wiles her days away with her writings, unconcerned with the frivolity of social standing. Her life is changed when a down-on-his-luck British aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) makes a business proposal to her father. The two are swept up in a classic Victorian love story that finds Edith on a roller coaster of emotions involving scorn, betrayal, death, and marriage. The young couple moves to the Sharpe estate in rural England, where Edith begins seeing haunting visions of ghosts who may or may not be trying to warn her of impending doom.

Think of it as Jane Austen filtered through a prism of Clive Barker. Crimson Peak follows a traditional Victorian structure that should be more than familiar to literature students across the globe—there’s the girl, her charmed life, the man she should marry, the man she marries, and the crushing realization of her poor decisions. While this is a tired structure, del Toro breathes new life into it with his haunting and singular vision.

This is del Toro at the absolute, um, peak of his powers. It’s as though everything he’s ever done has been leading to this moment. All of his movies seem to have been prologue, a trial run that culminated into this, his absolute masterwork. He is a director unchained, free to do whatever he needs to ensure the posterity of his vision and, even more so than usual, it bleeds through in every frame.

Wasikowska and Hiddleston are an absolute delight to watch, and their chemistry positively leaps off the screen, even despite the perhaps less than honest goals of Sharpe. The mystery surrounding their relationship and the secrets of their estate are pitch perfect, teasing viewers with hints and intrigue as the film moves through its acts, and the two stars give the performances of their respective careers. And it’s not just them. Every actor and actress brings to the table their absolute all, portraying fully realized characters that that feel completely real and natural. Jessica Chastain is an absolute delight as Sharpe’s devilishly scheming sister, Lucille, exuding both confidence and terror with the slightest glance. Even the normally one-note Charlie Hunnam (Jax from Sons of Anarchy) surprises with his range and ability.

And this is all due to del Toro, whose script and direction are absolutely remarkable. This is a man who understands both story structure and visual depth. Every line that is uttered and every shot that is shown is filled with subtext and meaning, and nary a shot nor word are wasted. His artistry is incomparable, and his skill undeniable.

Crimson Peak is a horror film that actually uses horror. Like Edith said, the ghosts are a metaphor, serving not merely as an end unto themselves, but as a device that furthers the story. Don’t walk into Crimson Peak expecting The Conjuring or The Amityville Horror set in another time. Doing so would be set yourself up for disappointment. The real horror is in the situation Edith is in, and the real monsters are far more terrifying than a ghost can ever be. The result is an achievement that stuns as much as it delights and positively redefines the scope of the haunted house movie.

Crimson Peak is now playing in theaters everywhere.

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