Tamsin Hilliker reviews Guillermo Del Toro’s latest gothic thriller
With Halloween just around the corner, Del Toro has unveiled his chilling gothic thriller Crimson Peak. Whisking us away to the turn of the 20th century, it tells the tale of Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a young American girl who falls for charming yet enigmatic English gentleman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Taken to his dilapidated English manor house, Edith comes face to face with the horrific manifestations of his past.
Of course, as all the trailers have already eluded to, this film features all the perfect ingredients for a gothic romance – an innocent girl, a deceptively dashing gentlemen, a questionable place of residence, and some exquisite costumes. This is a modern take on the classic gothic genre and Del Toro executes it fantastically. It is evocative of the literature of Shelley and Poe, yet is creative and original – a refreshingly stylistic approach to a fairly straightforward, yet beautiful, ghost story.
It could be argued that Crimson Peak is not quite as terrifying as anticipated, and in this case it would have benefitted from a less revealing trailer. Yet, unlike so many horror films released today, there are no cheap scares and unnecessary gore. As ever, Del Toro did not hold back and at times, the brutality is almost hard to watch, but the bloodshed is never unnecessary. This film is not twisted and disturbing for the sake of being so, which makes it stand out against the ubiquitous throwaway horror films. It is effortlessly classy yet while the story unfolds, it reveals some horrifying images that may stay with you longer than those in the usual horror film.
As with Del Toro’s other work, this is the kind of film that could use any shot as a promotional image: it is just that stunning to look at. Every shot is a work of art, and if it had been lacking otherwise, it would have at least been a visual masterpiece. However, it is nothing short of fantastic. This film simply oozes gothic appeal, with costumes and a set design to make Tim Burton jealous.
The attention to detail cannot be ignored either. At times every rustle of the costumes can be heard, as if the characters are there with you, adding to the eerie atmosphere. In certain scenes, the use of heartbeat-like sounds, reminiscent of Poe’s classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart, are admirable. This repetitive thumping emphasises the fragile mortality of Edith and creates effective tension to keep you at the edge of your seat. Del Toro’s approach to the ghosts themselves is also praiseworthy. He steps back from the general assumption today that, for a ghost film to be scary, the ghost has to be obviously ‘realistic’. He utilises his unique style to create a much more artistic approach to ghostly imagery. Nonetheless, this is no less scary than the ghosts seen in his El Orfanato (The Orphanage), for example.
Last but not least, the performances are great. It must be said that Mia Wasikowska, although wonderful, is slightly overshadowed by Jessica Chastain, but through no fault of her performance. It is thrilling to see Jessica go from her more amiable roles, notably as a gentle mother in Tree of Life, to this very different, dynamic character. She steals the screen to say the least.
So if you are looking for something a little different from your usual ‘Paranormal Activity’ cinema trip this Halloween, then I certainly recommend Crimson Peak.
Featured image credit: Official Crimson Peak poster