Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering is a curious beast of a film, and its style and substance may not be to everyone’s taste. To those that persevere with the over-the-top acting and wobbly plot, however, Crimson Peak is a rewarding film.
Our story centres around Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring novelist swept off her feet by the dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe (Thor’s Tom Hiddleston). Edith, who has the ability to perceive ghastly apparitions, is swiftly married to her British beau. The pair abandon her American homeland, and the attentions of Dr Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam, perhaps best known for Sons of Anarchy but certainly in a new sort of element in this film), for the bleak wastes of England. Her husband, and his eerie sister (Academy Award Nominee Jessica Chastain), welcome the new bride to their decrepit mansion, where sinister happenings soon begin to trouble her.
We are on familiar del Toro ground here, with a waifish heroine wandering dimly lit corridors threatened by otherworldly forces. The film can be a little grandiose at times, with acting that veers into melodrama and some comically clichéd dialogue. Hiddleston and Chastain make a fine pair as siblings with secrets, though they are forced to carry some scenes as Wasikowska lets her side down somewhat, her performance rather wooden at times. Hunnam makes a game attempt to play the heroic, yet scorned suitor, but his performance is undermined by a bad case of “Wandering Accent”, specifically the “Nearly-But-Not-Quite-Irish” strain.
We can overlook these flaws if we see Crimson Peak as an attempt to bring multiple elements of the Gothic novel to the screen, rather than to produce a coherent drama of more mainstream cinema. Del Toro is typically masterful in his use of shadow, creating suggestion and suspense, and there are some genuine frights from the elegantly realised ghosts.
The film’s costume and set pieces are equally lavish and immersive. The stairways and basement in particular nod to Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, which tie the film closely to narrative conventions of Gothic literature. Unfortunately, some elements, from the brightly coloured ruffles of Edith’s nightgowns to the ever-present scarlet of the household’s clay foundations, lend the surroundings a cartoonish air that distracts from the intended chills.
This is not a film that will win new converts to del Toro’s canon, but old fans and the literary-minded amongst us will find it an interesting diversion. It is ghost story season, so call in on the happy couple with an open mind and a gothic soul, and you might be in for a treat.