Mia Wasikowksa’s young spinster Edith Cushing is swept off her feet by impoverished English aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hidddleston), touring America with his chilly sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Ghost-whisperer Edith should have run a mile from both of them, but instead, marries into the Gothic monstrosity that is Allerdale Hall, crumbling into the red clay of Cumberland’s Crimson Peak.
Guillermo Del Toro mounts a handsome horror that promises much in the early reels but even with layers of Gothic design, truly scary ghosts, snow and bloody violence, can’t reach the highs of The Orphanage or Pan’s Labyrinth.
Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Only Lovers Left Alive) is a compelling, if unhinged heroine, a brittle, solitary figure who isn’t nearly as sympathetic as she should be. Hidddleston (Thor, Avengers) is a step away from Loki, relying on charisma to turn a weak, shallow con-artist into a leading man; while Chastain (Interstellar, The Martian) is clearly psycho from the start.
The real stars, however, are a series of ghostly manifestations that are genuinely terrifying, and a grand haunted house that doesn’t even look like it will last to the end of the movie. Allerdale Hall is so over-the-top in it’s fanciful, otherworldly, decaying architecture, if you hadn’t already started laughing at the plot, or the outrageous ladies shoulder-pads, the house will push you over the edge.
Del Toro expresses his love of horror with innumerable nods to Hammer, Hitchcock, Kubrick and the European golden age of B-movie shockers. The opening has a terrified young Edith alone with a Woman in Black style spook and is immaculately done. Del Toro shows just how vacuous and empty is the “quiet-quiet-bang!” school of modern horror, with sequences of hyper-suspense and real jump-in-your-seat moments. Set-up complete, we expect events to unfold in a properly scary, hide-behind-your-hands thrill-ride.
A shame, then, that act three abandons the tormented, eviscerated ghosts in favour of a schlocky, melodramatic slasher flick, which Del Toro clearly thinks is superior psychological horror fare. And so it should be, if only it didn’t fall into Gothic horror pastiche.
Perhaps we’re just too steeped in and too knowing of the horror movie canon from House of Wax to Poltergeist to accept such an earnest attempt at re-inventing the Gothic. If the house, the shoulder pads, and the off-kilter innocent-abroad act aren’t enough, the sinister British skulduggery of the Sharpe siblings tips over into Mel Brooks territory – Young Frankenstein and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
Wasikowska solves the ‘mysterious’ (bleedin’ obvious) deaths of the Allerdale residents with the aid of some left-luggage; both Hiddleston and her American beau – awkwardly played by a mis-cast Charlie Hunnam – fall by the wayside, and the inevitable stand-off between ‘Carrie’ Wasikowska and ‘Mrs Danvers’ Chastain stumbles to a flat conclusion.
While there’s much to admire in Del Toro’s audacious and masterful film-making, there’s insufficient substance in the script and I found it thin and predictable, like Kubrick’s The Shining, to which Crimson Peak owes much. For all the gory ghosts, body splatter, a bit of swearing and brief sexual references, this is a (strong) 15-certificate compromise of a movie, a dark fairy-tale that tilts at Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow but never really delivers on its terrific promise. RC
Crimson Peak (2015)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins, Lucinda Coxon
Running time: 1h 59m
Genre: Horror, Drama
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver