Film Contemplation: "Crimson Peak" (2015) Film Review

Updated on May 28, 2020
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' The things we do for a love like this are ugly..mad..full of sweat and regret. This love burns you and maims you and twists you inside out. It's a monstrous love and it makes monsters of us all '

Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak (2015) is an aristocratic romance piece moulded with a copious gothic flavour. It's a period drama of innocence, opportunism, scrupulousness, unrequited love and hollowness. It is not an out and out horror film as a certain section of the audience expected and therein lies the reason for some of the negative tirade thrown at the film's end.

Crimson Peak (2015) Film Poster
Crimson Peak (2015) Film Poster | Source

There is no question of del Toro's unquenchable imagination after he made 2006's El Laberinto del fauno (Pan's Labyrinth; though the Spanish title is more apt). While that film had an impeccable direction, Crimson Peak has more than a sense of familiarity to the proceedings. The screenplay, co-written by the director with Matthew Robbins, has a lot of loose ends that should have been ironed out. The first half is a bit lackadaisical considering the fact that you can predict the outline of all the central characters. He is noticably restrained in his effort to present a fairy tale kind of a picture but it is also due to his unique craft that you are still hooked to the happenings. It is Thomas E. Sander's exemplary production design that demands the audience's unwavering attention throughout the picture.

The film centres around a young woman named Edith Cushing, who is passionate about writing, especially dark novellas involving ghosts which she also sees in real life. Growing up, her mother's ghost warns her to stay away from a certain Crimson Peak. Her father is an eminent person and is visited by an esoteric baronet, Thomas Sharpe, to raise funds from him and his associates. This funding is intended for his clay mining business which he operates on his own land in Cumberland, England. The Sharpe family name is almost uprooted and the only surviving members are Thomas and his dour sister, Lucille. While he doesn't get the funding, Thomas and Edith develop romantic feelings for each other much to the chargrin of Mr. Cushing.

It is Thomas E. Sander's exemplary production design that demands the audience's unwavering attention throughout the picture.

They are married in obscure circumstances and return to England. The Sharpe house is in a dilapidated condition, worsened by the pervading clay from beneath. While Thomas is occupied by the clay extraction activity, Edith wanders around the voluminous murky place and realises supernatural presence around. Soon she learns that the land is known as Crimson Peak and remembers her mother's warning.

Crimson Peak's haunting production design
Crimson Peak's haunting production design | Source

Guillermo del Toro brings out his laudable style in the second half and it is here that Crimson Peak elevates to a new level almost breathing with a new life. The ghastly scenes suddenly start playing on your nerves, which also manages to bring the ghoulish dimension of the picture. The depth of the story is brought to the front, and while a lot of it is expected, it does manage to deliver a surprising measure of wretchedness with it. The Sharpe's shoddy past is unraveled and it is delightfully melancholic. The end credits are one of the most visually stimulating you'll see in a film.

The depth of the story is brought to the front and while a lot of it is expected it does manage to deliver a surprising measure of wretchedness with it.

Mia Wasikowska plays the protagonist Edith and is a bit of an enigma. While she portrays her part well, it is difficult to assimilate why she doesn't stay with you. Neither do you care much about her safety in the squeaky mansion whilst co-habitating with shadowy people. While one can argue that it might be due to her character not being well developed, it is also worth recognizing that Edith has the most screen time. If you fail to make the audience empathize with the lead, then part of the blame should be brought to the actor's door. It is actually Jessica Chastain's calculative and domineering Lucille Sharpe who stays with you long after the picture. Also noteworthy is the fact that Lucille's portrayal could have gone haywire with more emphasis on making her evil to the point of making her caricaturist. Luckily that doesn't happen here and Chastain hits the right notes with her performance. Tom Hiddleston's Thomas exhibits intriguing enchantment. His conflict is palpable but you can still sense his trajectory. Charlie Hunnam plays Dr. Alan McMichael, Edith's protective friend cum secret admirer. Whilst his performance is honest, his character is the most loosely written of them all despite having the least screen time.

Director Guillermo del Toro on sets on Crimson Peak (2015)
Director Guillermo del Toro on sets on Crimson Peak (2015) | Source

What is real and what is fantasy is difficult to determine in the picture. This equation is uncannily similar to El Laberinto del fauno. Edith has to deal with her mother's loss when she is of a very young age. It is possible she retorts to seeing her mother's ghost in a subconscious way of protecting herself. Her fixation with ghosts and dark characters is also attributed to this. Even the Sharpes have to deal with their own buried skeletons which vacillates between slyness and vileness. Every character is broken and has devised a different way to deal with their grief. They are bound by invisible shackles that witholds them from continuing in a different way. While Crimson Peak is a very good film, a tighter screenplay might have made it a much superior classic. Guillermo del Toro's vision isn't fully exploited but it's not tarnished either. The biggest draw is the production design which is in itself worth your time.

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