“… a dreadfully dull film that was really fun to look at.”
Crimson Peak is the most recent film by Guillermo del Toro, and also one of the weirdest. Crimson Peak follows a woman who meets a mysterious English stranger in the early 1900’s. The pair fall in love and eventually move back to England where they do stuff (I’m not super clear on this part). Oh, and there are also ghosts; so that’s fun.
One thing that Crimson Peak has in spades is Victorian-era design. Now del Toro isn’t exactly a stranger when it comes to Victorian influence in his films designs, but Crimson Peak goes all out. First of all, the setting of the film is fucking wonderful. The bleak setting of both early 1900’s America and England add to the film’s already sombre tone. Every location (especially the mansion later in the film) is so rich with detail and obvious care that went into their creation. I could have watched two hours of just slow pans around these locations and been happy (and as you’ll find out, I probably would have preferred that to what I got). And it’s not only the locations that are stunning, but also the costumes. Now the costumes in Crimson Peak aren’t super extravagant, but they do immerse you into this world. The things that these characters (especially the women) wear are once again carefully detailed to make sure that you never leave this heavily stylized world. The entire film felt to me like a lot of old horror films like The Lady in Black, and that makes sense because Crimson Peak is almost like a love letter to this bygone horror era.
So as I mentioned before, Crimson Peak has ghosts in it. Surprise! Guillermo del Toro decided to not only return to his horror-inspired roots, but this time he decided to go full-blown, ‘scare the shit out of you’ horror. Now these segments of Crimson Peak were easily the highlight. Guillermo del Toro did in fact manage to scare the shit out of me. I will say that a lot of the scares were accompanied by rather cheap audio cues that practically made me deaf, but even without that there were quite a few moments that sent shivers down my spine. One of the best parts of this subset of the film were the creature design. It’s no secret that Guillermo del Toro has a fantastic mind when it comes to designing the most fucked up shit humanity has ever seen, and Crimson Peak is no exception. I was a little disappointed at how bland a lot of Pacific Rim was, but Crimson Peak more than made up for it. The creature designs themselves were fucking horrific. The broken faces, the skeletal stature, the tattered clothing; all of it was on-point. It’s hard to really comment on how del Toro made ‘ghosts’ his own, but he really did. It takes skill to create something that scares me just to look at it, and all of these ghosts managed to do just that. And apart from their design, their presentation was astounding as well. It would have been easy for del Toro to just throw some motherfucker in a suit and say “that’s a ghost”, but instead he went to the effort of actually making them ghostly. The subtle effects to remove parts of their bodies, to make them partially transparent, it all added to the overall effect that scared the shit out of me.
But as I mentioned, this was the best part of Crimson Peak. What I didn’t mention was that these parts were few and far between. Crimson Peak opens (more or less) with our main character trying to sell a manuscript that she wrote. “It’s a ghost story ” the publisher remarks, “well, it’s more of a story with ghosts in it” our main character retorts. We then find out that this same publisher recommended that she writes a love story instead. This is supposed to show us that the 1900’s were a sexist time (no shit), but I think it shows us something else as well. It is my theory that this exact conversation occurred between Guillermo del Toro and some studio head, and instead of standing up for himself like the main character did Guillermo del Toro caved and changed his sweet ghost story into a boring love story. I could go even deeper and say that this movie (specifically the rebellious nature of the main character) is a way for del Toro to feel better about himself and create kind of a “what if” scenario. What I’m trying to say here is that the majority of this movie is pretty shit. We meet our main character, she meets this British dude, they fall in love, and that’s about it. It’s not a very engaging story, but I will give del Toro one thing: he knew exactly when I was about to give up and gave me a ghost. Like clockwork Crimson Peak would feature countless minutes of bullshit love story, then as soon as I was about to give up a cool ghost would appear. This strung me along just enough to get me to the credits, but it didn’t blind me to how shit the love story portions of this movie were. The main problem I have with Crimson Peak is the fact that even as a love story it’s shit. The way that this film tried to straddle the line of horror and love story gave us half-baked versions of each. To top this off, it was further divided because it also wanted to declare it’s love for the Victorian era. This causes the film to feel very split, and because of that the story suffered. Even the twist in the film (if you could call it that) lost all weight because we were expecting something the whole time. You can’t introduce two really shifty characters, and then at the end go “surprise! Their motives weren’t the greatest!”. And to make this even worse, the twist wasn’t half as bad as I expected it. The entire film set me up with the expectation that if I’m seeing this fucked up shit now, the ending must be suuuuper fucked. But nope, it was just disappointing. And not even the performances could save the story, which was a surprise to me. Crimson Peak had an all star cast with Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain picking up two of the leading roles, but they both disappointed. The characters written were so two-dimensional and obvious that you knew what you were getting into right from the start. Even the “character development ” that Tom Hiddleston’s character goes through doesn’t feel natural, instead feeling like a really forced attempt to win the audience back and inject some tension into this movie. The only performance worth praising here would be Mia Wasikowska’s, but even she only had one really stand out scene. Everyone else is just as bland as this film’s story.
Overall Crimson Peak is a movie that I despised, but one with quite a few elements that I loved dearly. The story was a piece of shit that didn’t know what it wanted to be but the horror elements were done very solidly, and constantly produced scares. I really liked the films design, not only with the settings and costumes but also the creatures. The best way for me to describe Crimson Peak would be that it was a dreadfully dull film that was really fun to look at.
I give Crimson Peak a B