In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.
Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is a gothic romance that has all of the hallmarks you’ve come to expect from the auteur, with the incredible production design and visuals shining through even when the narrative fails to come to life. The main plot of ‘Crimson Peak’ concerns a young women, Edith (Mia Wasikowska) who stands to inherit a great fortune from her wealthy father (Jim Beaver)., when she is seduced by the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who has travelled from the UK with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) seeking investment in his clay mining invention. Edith’s father makes it clear he doesn’t trust Sir Thomas and a private investigator discovers some interesting details about the Sharpe family history, leading to him pay Sir Thomas and his sister to depart and leave Edith alone. Shortly afterwards, he is brutally murdered, removing all obstacles to Edith and Sir Thomas being together and they are subsequently married and then move to England.
The film begins with a warning about ‘Crimson Peak’ from the ghost of Edith’s mother, and there are several ghostly appearances throughout the film which manage to be creepier rather than scary. Ultimately I felt that the supernatural elements were relatively unnecessary to the plot and the story could have worked just as well without them. The locations Del Toro chose to shoot in are inherently creepy and he builds up such a foreboding atmosphere, particularly in Allerdale Hall, that I think the film would have been more effective and more naturalistic without the addition of the ghosts. We already know that something is up with the Sharpe’s, from the private investigator’s findings to the openly hostile and strange behaviour of Lucille towards Edith after she moves in, and the ghosts only serve to remove any subtlety in the narrative.
‘Crimson Peak’ is at its strongest when it’s at its most melodramatic, and Jessica Chastain in particular really enjoys herself as Lucille. Mia Wasikowska is perfectly cast for this kind of part and it’s a similar turn to her performance in 2013’s superb gothic thriller ‘Stoker’, whilst Tom Hiddleston is serviceable as Sir Thomas. The story itself takes too long to gain any momentum, but it does spark into life as secrets come to the fore and the melodrama is dialled up to eleven, but this does still feel a little bit lacking like most of del Toro’s English language output. Overall, ‘Crimson Peak’ is sumptuously produced and you can get lost in the creepy atmosphere of Allerdale Hall, but the story itself doesn’t quite match.
Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope and Doug Jones