Crimson Peak (Movie Review)

Crimson Peak (Movie Review)
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PLOT: When sudden tragedy befalls the family of budding horror scribe Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), smooth but mysterious suitor Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) whisks her away to Crimson Peak - a remote and creepily crumbling manor that seems to have a life of its own.

REVIEW: After hoisting a pair of loud and colorful but ultimately flimsy tentpoles (HELLBOY II, PACIFIC RIM), Mexican visionary Guillermo del Toro returns to escalated form with CRIMSON PEAK - a sumptuously sinister yarn of Gothic romance that - through its garish production design and A-list performances - amounts to an engrossingly vivified love-letter to vintage horror cinema. It's no secret this was among our most anticipated flicks for review, and for the most part, the PEAK towers over the lot of expectations. That said, for reasons laid out below, I liked the movie a good deal, but didn't quite love it. For me the movie revels a little too long in the romantic reverie of its lead characters, and even has one painfully predictable story turn, before finally unmasking the satisfyingly macabre third-act menace. It may take awhile to reach the PEAK, but when we get there, del Toro delivers one hell of a pulsing piece of fanciful horror fantastique!

Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is a promising young Victorian-era horror author who lives with her brusque but loving businessman father Carter (Jim Beaver). As the film opens, Edith exhorts us that "ghosts are real", a viewpoint she's come to embrace when, after the death of her mother when she was just a little girl, a ghoulishly blackened chimera visits her in bed one night. It was the ghost of her mother returning with the grave admonishment: beware of Crimson Peak. Edith has never heard of such a place, but could never, no matter how hard she tried, shake such a haunting vision. Flash to 14 years following, and we find Edith all grown up and leading a relatively healthy existence. In fact, when dapper and debonair Englishman Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and his icily angling sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) - adorned in black garb and slicked back hair - show up with a business proposition for Edith's father, things grow awfully complicated in a quick hurry. See, Sharpe Mines is an age-old clay-mining business, now sputtering, for which the two siblings have traveled to America to seek funding. Papa Cushing (a nice homage to the horror great) rejects the pitch, and when something tragically strikes the family soon after, Edith marries and runs off with new beau Thomas to his wildly opulent but decrepitly rotting manor Crimson Peak.

Once there, the real terror takes hold. As is the case for the best cinematic haunted houses, when Edith arrives at Crimson Peak, we instantly get a sense of what a key character the lavish mansion will play in the story. Named for the blood-red clay deposits that lie just below its foundation, slowly subsuming the structure into its sinkhole, the house is a perplexing paradox of upscale affluence and moldering antiquity. Creaky doors, dusty corridors, rustling whirlwinds, cavernous recesses filled with bloody pools of liquefied clay, wallpapers adorned with fluttering half-dead butterflies, etc. In fact, the whole foreboding abode seems half-dead, praying on the souls of the dead who once lived there (including mama Sharpe, cheekily played in still photography by Doug Jones in drag). As Edith grows wearier about her new environs, she begins to see gruesome jinnis roaming the empty hallways. She starts coughing up blood and falling gravely ill with each passing night. Soon she makes a harrowing discovery about the Sharpe's past, and when she threatens to expose the truth, Edith is pitted in a fight to the death against the malefic forces - both living and ethereal - that dwell in the frigid snowbound house.

Veering from the plot details a bit, I was fully enraptured in the palpable atmosphere created by del Toro and Danish DP Dan Laustsen (MIMIC, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF). Del Toro romantically imbues his visual stylings with an array of multicolored marvel - neon drenched, saturated in firelight, and of course per the title, the plush deep red that envelops the entire film like a regal velvet coat. There's high-brow elegance to the picture that, when coupled with the low-fi period affectations and exploitative thrills and chills, creates a whole new level of unnerving I've not experienced prior. Sure, there's a time or two when I thought the overwrought CG phantoms felt more like something out of a Disney Haunted Mansion movie (wasn't del Toro at one point attached to direct such?), but overall, the extravagant look and feel of the movie are among its definite strong suits. So too are the performances, Wasikowska in particular, who I swear is one of the better young actress in the game right now (her 26th birthday celebrated today, as I write this. Happy born Mia!) Seriously, STOKER, MAP TO THE STARS, JANE EYRE...this chick puts down one deliciously daring turn after another. And here, without her emotional heft to carry the story, the gorgeously spooky visuals would be for naught.

The main issue for me however, the one thing that kept from loving the film as opposed to merely liking it a lot, is just how much time and effort when into the unrequited romance angle and less with the hard R-rated scares. Hell, the scariest part of the movie for me came in the goddamn trailer! Now, that's not to say the movies more vicious vibes aren't executed well, they are. CRIMSON PEAK works best as a ghastly Gothic mystery that slowly unravels in the ever-ailing POV of our lead, Edith. It's just that, a minute shy of 2 hours, it takes a while to get there. Moreover, the one big plot reveal that catapults the third act I found quite predictable. Thankfully it isn't such a crutch of a twist, and the movie's more thrilling moments at the end come unscathed as a result. In fact, the screenplay by del Toro and pal Matthew Robbins organically weaves into the third-act a brilliant set-piece that serves to heighten the climactic showdown. It's here where the Peak soars at the highest altitude, culminating in cyclical and breathtakingly beautiful finale.

To recount, CRIMSON PEAK is the best movie Guillermo del Toro has made since PAN'S LABYRINTH in 2006. It boasts all the trademark visual panache you're looking for in a del Toro flick - wildly imaginative and beauteous beyond belief. The story romantically recharges Gothic horror of yore, pumping fresh new life into an age-old subgenre in way that genuinely feels exciting. Good performances, gorgeous photography and gaudy set design round out the superlatives, with the only caveat coming from some shady CGI and an easily foreseeable instance or two. Beyond that, while it may take a bit of time to climb to Crimson Peak's most daring heights, the grand vista is certainly worth it.

Extra Tidbit: CRIMSON PEAK spills into theaters everywhere this Friday, October 16th.
Source: AITH



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