Crimson Peak (2015)

(On Cable TV, July 2016) Every so often, a movie manages to make me happy by sheer force of execution. Given that Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro’s return to dark fantasy in the vein of El Espinazo del Diablo and Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s not a surprise if the film is a sumptuous success in terms of atmosphere and visual design. Never mind the simple but satisfying story, the movie’s main set-piece is a decaying British manor in which snow falls through a hole in the roof, red clay oozes from the floor and vicious winds make the house creak and breathe. Crimson Peak is Gothic goodness pushed to a delirious limit, and the film is an eye-popping visual feast from beginning to end. The story may be predictable, but it acts as a decent framework for the atmosphere and the images, with capable supporting roles by Jessica Chastain (playing against type), Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska. Still, the real star here is del Toro, orchestrating lavish production values, fine-tuning his script until even the one-liners click and infusing a mature approach to genre elements in a unique mixture. Much like his previous dark fantasy films, Crimson Peak isn’t quite a horror movie, isn’t quite a ghost story and isn’t quite a Gothic romance: it’s a blend of elements that somehow fit together in a way that pays homage to a tradition without being slaved to it. It plays with tropes, gets much better in time (the first half-hour is hit-and-miss, but once the film makes it to the manor, it kicks in a different gear) and doesn’t let plot simplicity in the way of packing a lot of layers, call-backs, foreshadowing and allusions. If this review feels slightly giddy, it’s because I’m writing it still under the influence of the film—it’s a terrific piece of work, the kind of which gets essential at a time when all blockbusters are made for mass consumption. Crimson Peak may not be for everyone, and that makes it even better.

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