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Crimson Peak – Movie Review

20 October, 2015 — by Ben Davis0

Crimson Peak (2015)

Guillermo del Toro does everything with confidence, from Pan’s Labyrinth to crap like that big robot movie with Stringer Bell in it. Crimson Peak is indeed confident and actually good. It’s a hybrid – part gothic horror, love story, slasher, thriller and period drama (briefly).

Without having to raise the spoiler alert, the basic plot is innocent girl goes to dark mansion, see some ghosts, a bit of violence, the end. All the bits you’ve seen before in horror movies – a decrepit gothic house, grimacing spectres rather tangibly dragging themselves along the landing, wild weather, moorland, a dank cellar, the faithful dog etc etc. all these things are used but do not add up to cliche.

Tropes are tackled obliquely, sometimes knowingly – Baronet Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston on an interesting horror run along with High Rise) and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) are seen dressed in black, or else velvet, beneath a large and amusing portrait of their particularly embittered-looking old mother, also in black – and these tropes undercut the actual scariness of the movie until one realises the film has more of the suspense and occasionally satisfying violence of Romeo and Juliet than it does the subtlety of a horror movie.

Tom Hiddleston in Crimson Peak. Worst AirBnb host ever

It’s like reading a romantic penny dreadful. It’s like a cross between The Haunting, Scream and Tim Burton. But it’s actually good. An atmospheric piece of steam-punk Victoriana, almost. A bit of the Ripper about it.

The obvious allusions to horror peak (bleurgh) with the regular seepage of blood-red clay through the earth of the Baronet’s Cumberland estate. Thick, crimson liquid seeping up into footprints in the snow, or through the rotten floorboards of the grand carved house.

This red clay explains the Baronet’s trip to New York state – he has built a mining machine and wants foreign investment. From here, the plot has three stages: a charming, mysterious and insidious courtship; matrimony, ghosts and intrigue at the English house; and finally a sweeping and crashing and violent end.

The violence deserves mention. There’s a head-staving-in, a cleaved head, a face stabbing, some other stabbings, and some poisoning. It’s all done with great verve.

Here are my other favourite bits, without spoiling anything for the reader:

  • – Lovely Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is spoon-fed porridge by Lucille, who repeatedly grates a silver spoon along the edge of a porcelain bowl.
  • – There’s a killing in the bathroom of a gentleman’s club. It’s almost a classic Psycho shower death scene, blood and water down the drain.
  • – The first part of the movie, particularly, is shot with close-up, over-the-shoulder, then swooping camera work, all designed to make you feel a bit visceral, like you’re at a ball, and is quite handy in focusing attention on perhaps allegorical detail.
  • – There’s some fucking awesome wood carving in the Cumberland mansion.
  • – Edith’s dresses are exquisite, once bright yellow silk or satin, then with little pom-poms at the collar, She looks great, every inch the Mina Murray.
  • – The patriarchal Victorian atmosphere is turned on its head by a piece of ultra-violence.
  • – Ghosts are not always bad, you know.
  • – That Sharpe’s Cumberland mansion could be habitable is unfeasible. There’s a big fucking hole in the roof with leaves and snow coming through.
  • – Towards the end, every bit of tension is released from the movie with a James Bond-esque one-liner, just after someone has been hit very hard on the head with a spade.

For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.

Crimson Peak

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