Crimson Peak

I was thinking…

…no matter how original one tries to be, eventually one ends up borrowing from many if not all who have come before. After all, we are all products of our sum experiences.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. In my initial interview after the release of my first novel, Monarchy’s Shadow, the interviewer compared me to an open glass of milk sitting in the fridge. He meant I had obviously soaked up the flavors of everything around me: music, film, literature, and so on. This concoction of flavors came out in a book he referred to as being, “like Lord of the Rings with a little video game mixed in.”

Now that I’ve plugged some of my previous work, back to the movie.

Simply put, being completely original is next to impossible in this day and age, especially in the genre of horror. This is true even for an auteur the likes of Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.

His latest venture, Crimson Peak, follows young woman and aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia WasikowskaAlice in Wonderland), who is more interested in being like Mary Shelley than Jane Austen; falling in love and having a happy marriage is as important to her as breaking into writing.

Edith’s first attempt at writing is a story based on her own experiences with the ghost of her mother–a ghost who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.”

Adored by her best friend, opthamologist Alan McMichael (Charlie HunnamSons of Anarchy, Pacific Rim), Edith is nevertheless drawn to suave Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom HiddlestonThor: The Dark World), a British aristocrat who appeals to Edith’s wealthy father for investment money. A miner of sorts, Sir Thomas wishes to develop a machine to dredge up the rare red clay unique to his property in England.

Edith’s father is wary of the young man and launches a secret investigation on him and his rather overbearing sister, Lucille (Jessica ChastainThe Martian, Zero Dark Thirty). Before he can make use of the findings, however, he is murdered.

Edith liquidates her inheritance and marries the Baronet, giving him the money to help develop his machine as she moves into his dilapidated mansion in England. Her connection to ghosts has not diminished, though, as each night in the drafty place unveils more and more chilling and frightening spectral appearances. Between these and Lucille’s bizarre behavior, Edith is convinced of a deeper mystery involving the house, the land or its owners.

Crimson Peak, although beautifully shot, shows some degrees of weakness. The casting is questionable in some areas. In typical movie fashion, actors cross borders and accents. Edith is an American played by an Australian. Alan an American played by an Englishman and Lucille an Englishwoman played by an American. These would be acceptable moves, but Chastain’s rather questionable British accent lacks any real commitment. She’s not as bad as Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves, but she ain’t great.

Playing Edith’s father is American character actor Jim Beaver, whose wooden performance all but yanks one out of the story’s world whenever he opens his mouth. I saw better performances in my sixth grade production of Ayn Rand’s “Night of January 16th.”

Director del Toro also relies heavily on the old cliches of the horror genre, eliciting what I consider to be cheap thrills. The standards: jump cut-like movements of ghosts, the sudden decrescendo of musical score and accompanying sound effects immediately before something creepy jumps out at you, etc. This borrowing of horror past even extends as far as the protagonist’s name. Edith Cushing, no doubt, is named after Hammer Horror alum Peter Cushing, a man arguably best known for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars.

Also unfortunate is that anyone with a deductive mind will figure out the mystery well before the halfway point of the movie. Worse still, anyone with a deductive and imaginative mind will infer a much more interesting plot than what is actually in the film.

Fans of del Toro’s imagery will not be disappointed by any of this, however. Visually, Crimson Peak is a feast of primary colors. Contrasting cool blues with angry reds elicit mood on such a primal psychological level that we do not need a ghost swirling about the corridors. The lighting, shadow and palette establish an environment of fear without the paranormal even being present. Yellows, ochres and earth tones add to this cornucopia of color, making it evident a film like this would lose almost everything had it been shot in monochrome.

Furthermore, the costumes and sets are as grand or more so than anything in del Toro’s Hellboy series. The feel of Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula from 1992 is brought forth in all its spooky Victorian splendor. And fans of the original Resident Evil video games will appreciate the collecting-items-in-order-to-unravel-the-mystery aspect of the story.

What is quite obvious is this is a self-reflexive film. Edith’s manuscript is described as a love story that just happens to a have a few ghosts in it. The same can easily be said of the movie. Fans of mystery, horror and even (blech) romance will all find something to enjoy on Crimson Peak.

Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 cleavers

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen or the “Rdio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.

Crimson Peak
Rated R
Run time: 119 minutes


3 thoughts on “Crimson Peak

  1. Great review. I was putting off seeing the film due to personal preference and my dislike to some of Del Toro’s later work. However, after reading this review I think I will check it out for the style and sheer beauty of the imagery.


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