IN A NUTSHELL
Aspiring writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) seems perfectly content with bookish spinsterhood, that is until a tall, dark, Loki-esque stranger named Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) enters her life. After some mysterious and tragic circumstances, she agrees to marry Sir Thomas and is whisked away to the cold and wind-swept environs of Allerdale Hall in England. The creepy and decrepit mansion is made even more uninviting thanks to the presence of Thomas's bloodless sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) who treats Edith like an interloper. In time, Edith becomes suspicious of their collective motives and when a childhood warning comes back to haunt her, escape from Crimson Peak becomes a priority.
IN THE WHEELHOUSE
If you're looking for a hoary old ghost yarn in the vein of classic Gothic horror tales like Wuthering Heights, The Fall of the House of Usher, Dracula, or The Castle of Otranto then you'll enjoy this spooky and atmospheric picture.
- It's Gorgeous. Art director Brandt Gordon, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, costume designer Kate Hawley and set decorators Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau have produced a truly gorgeous final product to look at. Add in some sweeping and sumptuous camerawork by cinematographer Dan Laustsen and you're got an incredible sumptuous visual treat that's a joy to behold.
- It's Well-Acted. With her distinctive looks and solid acting chops, Mia Wasikowska makes for a sympathetic and relatable heroine. Tom Hiddleston is as sure-footed and charismatic as ever, keeping his cards close to his chest and emerging as a slightly tragic figure. Charlie Hunnam is noble and tenacious as Dr. Alan McMichael, Edith's jilted love interest who also serves as the Dick Hallorann from The Shining role. It's also great to see Supernatural's Jim Beaver on hand as Edith's dad Carter, even though I really wanted him to call Tom Hiddleston's character an "idjit" at least once. Finally, Jessica Chastain deserves major plaudits for bringing duplicity, vindictiveness and bat-shit nuttery all together in one sultry package. Even though some people might dismiss some of the performances as over-ripe, I think everyone is well in-bounds given the melodramatic subject matter.
- It's Got All The Ingredients. Between ghosts, virginal maidens, poison, secret agendas, stalwart heroes, creaky mansions, murder, mystery, spiritual foreboding and "Bluebeard"-style warnings, Crimson Peak certainly delivers as a Gothic romance. Bonus points: the central character's last name is Cushing, presumably in honor of the late, great horror icon Peter Cushing.
- It's A Good Yarn. The script by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins unfolds at a leisurely pace, like a good novel should. By the end of it, you know the character quite well and understand their motivations, even if those motivations just so happen to be "Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs". Their patient investment in both the characters and the story helps bring everything to a logical, meaningful and satisfying conclusion.
- It Sounds Fantastic. Working in tandem with sound designer Randy Thom, del Toro ensures that you hear every creaking floorboard, settling foundation, clanking pipe, phantasmal whisper and candle flame flutter as the camera whips by. The guttural, tortured exhalations of the specters are particularly effective. Throw in an alternately florid, cacophonous and moody musical score that brings Alien, of all things, to mind and you've got one creepy and engaging auditory experience.
- It's Well-Directed. For a relatively-talky Gothic horror piece, del Toro and his editor Bernat Vilaplana keep things moving at a brisk pace. Notwithstanding a vibrantly-shot and beautifully-choreographed dance sequence as well as Carter's brutal demise, the film really gets cooking when the action shifts to Allerdale Hall. From there on it we get a well-orchestrated escalation of dread, some truly harrowing haunt sequences and a brutal and unrestrained climax that features more than a few squirm-inducing moments.
- It's Respectable. Quick, disposable found footage flicks, remakes and slasher knock-offs only serve to cheapen the genre so it's nice to see a high-mast horror movie for a change. If nothing else, Crimson Peak honors the roots of the genre with excellent production values and keen aesthetic choices.
- It Doesn't Break Any New Ground. Sure, Crimson Peak is a well-made Gothic horror romance, but what new tricks does it have up its puffy sleeve? Unfortunately, not many. Sadly, the script is kinda predictable, to the point where none of the major "revelations" really took me by surprise.
- It Isn't Super-Scary. It's a darned good thing that I went into this knowing full well that it was a Gothic romance and not the unrelenting fright fest that the trailer would have us believe. Sorry, but compared to The Woman in Black, this one's actually quite tame.
- Digital Spooks? *YAWN*. Before I go any further I want to state for the record that Crimson Peak is light years above and beyond CGI bore-fests like 1999's The Haunting. Del Toro actually wrings a lot of mileage out of his inventive ghost designs and their mournful manifestations, but, when everything's said and done, it still comes off as transparently- fraudulent digital trickery.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As a former English Major I pretty much knew what to expect with Crimson Peak. Anyone going into this expecting a blood-soaked, action-packed, balls-to-the-wall horror thriller is going to be sorely disappointed. But if you're looking for a well-acted, gorgeous-looking, expertly-crafted little chiller that honors the roots of the Gothic horror genre, you'll be well-entertained.