Friday, 16 October 2015


I'd better be honest up front here — I love the films of Guillermo del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is one of my favourite films ever, while I think both The Devil's Backbone and Cronos are masterpieces, and I'm one of those people keeping all my non-essential extremities permanently crossed in the hope that, one day, we'll see the final epic chapter of the Hellboy trilogy. Even GdT's less popular titles such as Mimic, Blade II and Pacific Rim have a special place in my heart, whether it be for sheer visual invention or witty, cool uniqueness scattered throughout each of them.
So what I'm saying is that I went in to the advance screening of Crimson Peak expecting to be pleased. That this is del Toro's take on a Gothic ghost story (a genre I absolutely adore) only heightened those expectations.
Would I be disappointed?
Read on...


Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Bruce Gray, Burn Gorman

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

As a girl Edith Cushing experiences a terrifying encounter with the spectre of her deceased mother, an encounter in which the spirit urges her to 'Beware Crimson Peak'. Later, Edith (Wasikowska) has become an aspiring writer in late 19th Century New York. Her father, Carter (Beaver) is a hardworking wealthy businessman, who entertains her ambitions, even if he would love to see her experience true love, just once.
One day Carter has a meeting with a dashing young Baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), who needs investment from Cushing and his friends to create a device that will restore the clay mine beneath his stately home in Cumbria, Allerton Hall, to its former glory.
Cushing takes an instant dislike to the privileged young Englishman, however, soon romance starts to blossom between Edith and Thomas, much to the chagrin of her father and family physician Dr Alan McMichael (Hunnam), a childhood friend of Edith's who loves her dearly.
As the couple's relationship progresses, Cushing hires a PI, Holly (Gorman) to investigate Thomas and his icy sister Lady Lucille (Chastain). Upon discovering a scandalous secret about the Sharpes, Cushing orders them to leave.
However, the following morning Cushing is brutally slain, a tragedy which only drives Edith into the arms of Thomas. Soon the pair are married and return to the Sharpes' family home, a spectacular but rundown mansion atop a mound of red clay. 
A crimson peak.
Shortly after moving in, Edith begins to suspect that the Hall is home to several horrifying spirits.
But are they trying to hurt her... or warn her of a far greater danger? 

THE BEST BITS (minor spoiler warning): Where to start? I suppose with my initial reaction to viewing the film — del Toro has always had a fantastic eye for creating rich, dark but beautiful visuals. Crimson Peak may just be his most sumptuous film yet.
From the set design of the spectacular Allerton Hall, to the beautifully utilised motifs of red and yellow against the bleak black and green house, right down to the dreamlike snowstorm climax, it is utterly breathtaking. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen ensures each frame is seeped in Gothic atmosphere, while production designer Thomas E. Sanders and art director Brandt Gordon have packed every scene with some beautiful details that I'm sure will reward repeat viewings.
I'm not normally one to praise costumes, but these (designed by Kate Hawley) are equally fantastic, making strong use of blocks of colour to really catch the eye.
Quite simply, Crimson Peak is beautiful.
But admittedly gorgeous visuals aren't enough to make a film. Plot is the most important element to creating a truly captivating movie.
It's here that I need to point out that, despite what the marketing seems to be claiming, Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. It is a Gothic-romance with elements of horror scattered throughout. Much as lead character Edith explains multiple times regarding her manuscript, 'it's not a ghost story, it's a story with a ghost in it'.
In truth it's more of a twisted drama, with some extremely dark moments. The plot is not particularly complex, there are no gamechanging twists, instead it sets up a few mysteries early on, then gently reveals the answers one after the other. Honestly, most can be guessed quite early in the movie and there's very little likely to shock throughout.
But this really doesn't matter because it is a story about characters, notably our core trio of Edith, Thomas and Lucille, and their complex relationships with one another.
First we have Wasikowska's Edith, the undoubted heroine of the piece. She's feisty, independent, a headstrong young woman in a time that was not prepared for such a fiercely spirited lady. At the start she views men as condescending obstacles to her own success, with an even stronger view of men of privilege. This makes her burgeoning relationship with Thomas all the more compelling, we are seeing her world view change, her deeply held beliefs turned on their head by a mysterious and seductive stranger. Wasikowska is excellent in the role, keeping Edith soft enough that you sympathise with her through her ordeals (especially the frankly terrifying haunting sequences), while still imbuing her with enough steel at her core that she never comes across as a simpering, irritating damsel in distress. With her large emotive eyes, she's an excellent choice for leading lady.
As for leading man Hiddleston as Thomas, he too is fantastic. Sharpe is the most complex character in the film, a mysterious anti-hero whose motives can never be truly trusted. It's obvious that he and Lucille have chosen Edith for some nefarious purpose, but at the same time, as he romances Edith, there are several hints that the feelings he expresses towards her may not be entirely feinted. After taking the high-profile role of Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it isn't much of a stretch for Hiddleston to play a charming, erudite, villainous and misguided aristocrat, but by golly, he does it so well.
It's a fantastically restrained performance, which really pays off in the latter stages when you get to catch a glimpse of the turmoil within. Bravo, sir!
Finally we come to Chastain's enigmatic Lucille. Two-time Oscar nominee Chastain has been winning plenty of plaudits for her standout performance in Crimson Peak. And for good reason too — her brittle Lucille is a wonderfully realised character, one who isn't given a huge amount to do until quite late in the film, but takes every opportunity to draw you in with each second that she has. Alternating between icy glares, hateful smirks and anguished longing, she has totally captured the essence of a character who could only exist in Gothic fiction. It falls just short of hammy, yet is still so delightfully sinister you can't help but titter while she talks about dying butterflies with relish or describes the manner in which she nursed her ailing mother back to health following a violent assault by her brutish father. In a film packed with tormented spectres and haunted mansions, it is the flawless work of Chastain that creates the biggest chills.
Which brings us to those spooks. For, despite what I've said about the film not being a true horror movie, it still has plenty of moments that are utterly horrifying. There are some stomach-turning moments of brutal and shocking violence that provoked squeals from the audience with whom I viewed the film. But it is the terrifying ghosts that stand out. Still bearing the awful wounds that sent them into the afterlife, they are decomposing, distraught, desperate lost souls. They bear plenty of the hallmarks of del Toro's work, whispy tendrils of ether trailing away from their skeletal frames, their gaunt, frail bodies reaching out to grasp the subject of their attentions. That they are brought to life by the phenomenal Doug Jones and Javier Botet just adds to their eeriness, utilising two of the most recognisable and talented body actors out there.
This pays dividends too — in a film that rarely falls back on jump-scares, the sudden appearance of these heart-stopping entities is more than enough to cause sufficient jolts.
But for all the scares I return to the characterisation as the best part of the script. From the towering central trio, to able and stirring support from Supernatural's Beaver and the impressive and handsome Hunnam —plus Torchwood-alumni done-good Gorman in a lovely extended cameo — the cast bring these characters to life wonderfully, while the story by del Toro and Matthew Robbins gives them plenty to do. Quite frankly, it's a triumph.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Honestly, it feels churlish to attempt to find fault with such an accomplished and ambitious motion picture.
First I'll address a key problem that plenty of viewers have discussed since seeing the trailer — the dreaded CGI.
There is a fair amount of CG used in the film, either to create or to enhance elements, and, in all honesty, it's not always a hit.
The moths (a del Toro staple) are excellent, however, at times the ghosts are less so. They reminded me a bit of the titular spirit in the del Toro-produced Mama (unsurprising considering Botet was used in that movie as well). The effects work has improved since it was used in Andrés Muschietti's 2013 film and is always fantastic in shadow or at a distance, but it suffers somewhat when in extreme close-up, especially when animating facial features. Respect must go to del Toro and the effects team for attempting to use puppets and actors in costume as much as possible, but there are times when they struggle to reach the scope of del Toro's substantial imagination and CG must be used. Sadly, there are also times that CG strains to match that imagination too.
Next up, and I've said this before but it bears repeating — Crimson Peak is not an out-and-out scare fest. There are a couple of very well-executed shocks, some decidedly nightmarish imagery and savage blood-letting that would put some slasher flicks to shame, but Crimson Peak is not a horror movie. Instead it's a dark and twisted adult fantasy. As such it moves far slower than fans of the likes of Friday the 13th, Hatchet or Saw may be used to. Personally I loved it for what it was, but this is a warning to those who may get annoyed at the movie for what it isn't.
Finally, a small peeve on my part. It's obvious that del Toro is a real fan of the time in which the story is set, and he loads it with plenty of authentic period touches. Sadly, he doesn't seem to have the same faith in us, his audience, because every time Edith stumbles across forgotten technology from the era she states exactly what it is in an off-putting unrealistic manner i.e. 'Wax cylinder recordings' or 'a gramophone'. I get that he may have thought people may not recognise them (they're not exactly everyday items after all), but there must be a better way to demonstrate what they are without just stating their name.

THE VERDICT: Let's keep this simple — Crimson Peak is one of my frontrunners for film of the year. It looks amazing, it sounds fantastic, has a genuine A-List cast and totally encapsulates the feel — and thrills — of Gothic fiction, itself one of the strongest influences on the genre we love. Guillermo del Toro has done it again, this movie is magnificent. 
Crimson Peak is released in UK cinemas today — watch it.
In the meantime you can find out more about the film here at its official Facebook page. Give it a Like while you're there too!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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