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REVIEW: CRIMSON PEAK – The Flowers In Guillermo Del Toro’s Attic

Director Guillermo Del Toro is an iconic filmmaker. He’s taken genre pictures and made them go mainstream. CRONOS, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH are regarded as his greatest works. He’s also had a few lackluster offerings, like MIMIC, BLADE II and (depending who you talk to) PACIFIC RIM. Unfortunately, despite its eye-popping visuals and solid ensemble, CRIMSON PEAK falls into the latter category. Del Toro spins a good gothic yarn until the second act when, thanks to predictable twists, that sweater he’s been knitting quickly unravels.

From moment one, it’s clear he and fellow screenwriter Matthew Robbins have been greatly influenced by the melodrama, cerebral thrills and horrors of REBECCA, THE INNOCENTS and V.C. Andrews. Since she was a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) has been haunted by the ghost of her mother warning her to beware of the mysterious ‘Crimson Peak.’ She’s attempting to write her first novel – a story involving ghosts that’s lacking a love element…just like her own life. So meta! Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British baronet/ inventor attempting to drum up money in the States from Edith’s caring investor/ industrialist father (Jim Beaver). Sharpe also has a super protective and scheming sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But more on her later. The two dreamers instantly fall in love, but on the night he’s to ask for her hand in marriage, Edith’s dad puts the kibosh on it. However, he turns up murdered.  In the aftermath of devastating grief, Edith follows her loins heart, marries Thomas and sets off for the Sharpe’s decaying childhood manse, Allerdale Hall, otherwise known as… you guessed it. This is when her dream morphs into a nightmare as she uncovers the family’s skeletons – real and imagined.

Aesthetically, CRIMSON PEAK is a visual marvel. Get ready to magpie the heck out on it. Gothic atmosphere and imagery hit audiences like a wallop. Ambience is at an all-time high, coating the picture as thick as the red clay that rolls down the Sharpe mansion walls like blood. Working with a deep and overly saturated color palette enriches the movie-going experience, transporting us to another time. Even if this were in black and white, it would still appear lush and sumptuous. Edits utilizing the closing and opening of the camera’s iris are also clever and time appropriate. Instead of yellow and blue color theory to dissect, we are treated to teals and burnt siennas.  Thomas E. Sanders’ production design and Kate Hawley’s costume design are worth the price of admission alone. The house is a metaphor – as are most of the trinkets and red flags ghosts inside.

Though symbolism of butterflies, moths and parasites bolster the narrative when it flails (and boy does it), it’s not enough to save the film from its dismal nature. In terms of the frights, scares are front-loaded, and the second half isn’t as dread-inducing. It’s stomach-churning, maybe, at the big reveal. The love triangle between Thomas, Edith and her father’s doctor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie “hubba hubba” Hunnam) is missing an “oomph” – I’m not sure if that’s due to chemistry not quite getting there, or if that drive is absent from the script. Given the ending, it also doesn’t really go anywhere either – unless you very loosely think of Alan as the film’s ‘Dick Halloran.’ Twists dealing with the Sharpe siblings’ nefarious ulterior motives are seen coming from a mile away – especially if you’ve read V.C. Andrews’ works. Plus, the film leaves viewers with more questions than answers; what exactly was really tethering the Sharpes to Allerdale Hall? Why don’t they live a nomadic lifestyle? Wouldn’t their secrets be better kept that way versus living in the place where snoopy people can catch on rather easily? Also, what exactly was the scale of that thing in the basement and why didn’t it return?

Beware of Crimson Peak! We were warned early on. Similar to the main character, we didn’t listen because we didn’t know what dangers lay ahead. Again: so meta!

3 out of 5

CRIMSON PEAK opens on October 16.


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  1. Reviews: Crimson Peak (2015) | Online Film Critics Society - October 16, 2015

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