“It starts holding onto things… keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be.“
I’m not really sure what director Guillermo del Toro was thinking by adding ghosts as wavering antagonists in Crimson Peak, but while del Toro’s recent work focuses more on style and less on substance, I’m surprisingly okay with that.
The problem with Crimson Peak falls heavily on it’s marketing campaign pushed by Legendary and Universal on the brink of Halloween. Depicted as more of a fright-fest, or House on Haunted Hill, the soul of this plot relies heavily on romance not ghosts. But the romance feels rushed, and the love story borderlines forced between Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston’s characters. The relationship between the two characters felt disingenuous with little chemistry from actors who typically can ooze with lust (read: Tom Hiddleston).
This isn’t Del Toro at his finest, and it’s definitely not the next Pan’s Labyrinth, but Crimson is tied together by breathtaking cinematography and strong performances that were unfortunately shoveled through an awkward script. I have my gripes with the two protagonists and their forced relationship, but a heavily rushed script may have contributed to this problem.
I wish this movie was focused more on a romance gone wrong, complemented with an eerie backdrop, than a story muddled in a mansion with ghosts.
The plot is “In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.”
Crimson is written in a very particular style with Edith (Mia Wasikowska) as a strong, dominant character in the beginning of the movie. She’s a novice writer whose most recent work deals with ghost, but, like the movie, the ghosts aren’t there to scare, but to serve as a metaphor of the past. While the movie offers a few jump-scares, these aren’t malicious spirits jumping out of the closet. In all honesty, it would have been an absolutely fine movie without the inclusion of the tormented spirits, and it would have had a greater effect.
In an interview with Deadline, del Toro explains the difference between a haunted house movie and a Gothic romance. “In a haunted house movie like The Shining or The Haunting, the house itself is an autonomously malignant spirit. Whereas in Gothic romance, the house expresses the spiritual decay of the characters but is not sentient. If you think of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, that is very much the function of the building in a Gothic romance. It encapsulates and represents the ghosts of the past or the sins of the fathers, or secrets, but it’s not necessarily a sentient building.
Gothic romance is not so much scary as it is creepy or atmospheric. These movies do have a couple of shocks but don’t depend on them as much as they do atmosphere. There’s a pervasive sense of menace or gloom in the air. Audiences today are more anesthetized to those charms, but I feel that film making is not about making foolproof products for a large number of people as it is making movies that are themselves. And then you hope that an audience that will find them, and cherish and love them.”
The greatest character in Crimson is the house itself–it almost reminded me of the mansion from The Addams Family in the respect that you didn’t know what creepy crawler was behind the next corridor. Del Toro did a spectacular job at playing with a decaying color palette for Crimson Peak garnished with the blood-soaked red grounds that lay atop red clay fields.
I’ll be curious if the Academy pays attention to the cinematography, art design and costume design in Crimson when award season comes around. It may not have much depth, but it sure is pretty to look at!