FILM REVIEW – CRIMSON PEAK. With Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver. Written by Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language. 119 minutes.
When the ads for CRIMSON PEAK noted that filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is the director of “Pan’s Labyrinth” rather than “Hellboy” or “Pacific Rim,” you know this is going to be one of his arthouse films. That’s okay. Del Toro goes back and forth between Hollywood projects and personal endeavors and, amazingly, scores with both.
“Crimson Peak” is his take on the gothic novel, with a young woman sucked into situation with characters with dark and twisted secrets. Indeed, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) aspires to write such tales herself, explaining to a prospective publisher that the ghost in her story is merely a “metaphor.” The ghosts in her own reality turn out to be a bit more substantial.
The daughter of an early 20th century builder (Jim Beaver) in Buffalo, New York, she finds herself taken–much to her surprise–by Baron Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston), who is seeking investors for a machine to mine the red clay on his estate. His creepy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) gives off a bad vibe from the start, but appears to be hospitable to young Edith.
Through a series of events not to be divulged in this review, Edith ends up as Thomas’s bride, arriving at his remote estate to discover a place that is both magnificent and falling apart. Del Toro and production designer Thomas E. Sanders and his team have really outdone themselves. There’s spooky hallways, a grand staircase, and a huge hole in the roof that allows leaves–and later, snow–to fall right into the entryway. Oh, and it’s haunted.
There are secrets in the Sharp family that are slowly revealed, including why Edith starts coughing up blood after drinking the special tea that Lucille serves her. Indeed, there are distinct echoes of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” here, but del Toro only takes what he needs to tell his own story. As with many gothic tales, this follows an innocent young woman waking up to just how cruel the real world can be.
The three principals are outstanding. Wasikowska, often dressed in white, is all purity and innocence, as she begins to become suspicious of her new family and her surroundings. Chastain, dressed mostly in black, becomes increasingly sinister as we learn the truth about the Sharps, while Hiddleston has to straddle both worlds, making us wonder just where his loyalties are. Beaver has a wonderful turn as Edith’s gruff but loving father, while Charlie Hunnam does what he can with the film’s thankless role: the “good” boy Edith leaves behind.
While not as profound as “Pan’s Labyrinth,” the movie is a mix of serious characters with moments of pure horror. This is just what we’ve come to expect from del Toro in his “artistic” mode, and he doesn’t disappoint. The film is a visual feast with just enough shocks to ensure you don’t mistake this for some well-mounted costume drama. “Crimson Peak” is the stuff of a beautifully vivid nightmare, which may be the highest praise that can be offered.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.