"Ghosts are real, that much I know."
With ‘Pacific Rim 2’ taking an indefinite delay Guillermo Del Toro is probably focussing much more on his artistic and gothic stories rather than big budget robot-vs-giant-monsters story (I’m happy because maybe he’ll have time to finally make ‘Hellboy 3’, I can dream can’t I?). So one could argue that ‘Crimson Peak’ may set a standard for what we can expect from the director over the coming years now that he appears to be out of the franchise game.After seducing a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) a landowner (Tom Hiddleston) takes her away to his family home that sits atop a clay filled mountain and contains hidden secrets and dark mysteries that are soon resurfacing.
Marketing executives can be idiots right? Having had this movie marketed as a straight up horror film it took Del Toro himself, just a few days from the release of ‘Crimson Peak’ to inform viewers that it is in fact a gothic romance rather than a complete horror. That may sound like a disappointment to those who were expecting something else and unsurprisingly it has already become one of the most divisive movies of the year.
It is also the most beautiful. From the stunning design of the films aesthetic nature to its eerie cinematography, ‘Crimson Peak’ is gushing with rich textures and glorious depth that is stunning to behold. It is intricate in their detail and sometimes almost drowned me in its own symbolism. In a way the film was simply too meticulous, it may just be my (sometimes extremely) limited scope but there were moments when it overwhelmed me to try and soak in every methodically crafted set piece and representation.
One could of course ask, with all of this artistic design how does the movie induce fear, as it is after all still described as a gothic romance? Though there are some monsters and ghouls on offer it is through its characters emotions that ‘Crimson Peak’ draws fear from its setting. The intense emotions on display are given extra emphasis and put into context with the atmosphere of its scenery by Del Toro’s direction. The main problem is that though those emotions are extreme they do not really go anywhere. They seem to lack an arc and makes it ultimately difficult to engage on a long term emotional level. Ultimately it feels as if the house itself is the most important character of the story (though maybe that is intentional).
It is a shame that the characters are quite underwritten as there are some amazing performances on display here. Hiddleston, Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain are fantastic in their roles, fully evoking the fear, passion and drama of their characters as if it is easy. The problem is that when you consider the characters overall arc, it is. However once again I’m left to wonder whether this is intentiona; simply due to the films design. Most of the design stands as a way to symbolise or represent certain emotions of the characters and epitomise their personalities without even saying a word, whether in a yellow dress in a lift (caged canary) or blood red silk the costumes and set pieces say so much more than the writing ever does. As far as directorial masterpieces go that can show off your talents as a creative mind behind the camera, Del Toro chose his material pretty well. His direction elevates what is a fairly substandard plot and clichéd characters to heights they would never reach, but is it enough?
The pacing is slow and eerie with a plot that feels more drawn out than it should be. The source material should have added a few more twists and turns to accompany the visuals or at the very least find a visual way to display the few conventional plot points. Where emotions and characteristics are displayed so astonishingly through visual elements the plot does not unravel in nearly as subtle or intricate a way.
So while it is stunning to behold on an aesthetic level, full of staggering displays of directorial brilliance from Del Toro, ‘Crimson Peak’ lacks the necessary substance to make it a seminal film. However I still retain a deep respect and fascination for it, what does that say about it?