By: JORDAN RAE LUCAS
Guillermo del Toro’s latest film “Crimson Peak” has been receiving a lot of criticism for not being scary.
With a mid-October release date and a trailer that predominantly features unexplained bumps in the night and bloody, skeletal ghosts, fans and critics alike were expecting a horror movie. The problem here is that “Crimson Peak” is not a horror movie.
The film’s protagonist, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), has a line early in the film that sums things up quite nicely. “It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it.” She is talking about the gothic novel she is trying to have published. “Crimson Peak” is the modern, living embodiment of a gothic romance, a fact that seemed lost on the film’s marketing department.
Universal Pictures did a fantastic job selling the artistically driven film. They just sold it in the wrong genre. My primary concern in all of this is that the lackluster reviews the film has received based on something it was never supposed to be will make it impossible to see the astonishing piece of art that it actually is.
“Crimson Peak” is a must-see film. Like all of del Toro’s work, there is some next-level storytelling and filmmaking happening. With the poor critical reception and early release date, my biggest fear is that this film will not get the awards season attention it so rightly deserves. Every aspect of this film is beautiful. Even the parts meant to make Edith and the audience feel a sense of unease are beautiful in their own sinister way.
Edith is the daughter of a wealthy architect in Industrial Revolution era Buffalo, New York who falls in love with the mysterious young English Baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) seeking investors for his clay-mining machine. Edith is the classic ingénue, lovely and naïve, and Thomas is the anti-hero love interest, handsome and secretive. This pairing is the hallmark of any gothic romance worth its salt.
Every gothic romance also needs a foil. Thomas’ sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) fills that role perfectly. She is almost as cold and foreboding as the once-stately manor the siblings share. Lucille commands attention and demands awe in its most terrified form from the moment she appears on screen. This is equal parts wardrobe and performance.
When Lucille is introduced to Edith and the audience, she is in a bright red corseted gown that is dramatic even by the standards of the time period with a mass of black hair braided around her head like a terrible crown. Edith is her opposite in every way in an understated and angelic white gown. Chastain brings Lucille to sinister life with a performance that is unhinged and over-the-top and perfectly befitting the genre.
Jessica Chastain is already a two-time Academy Award nominee and “Crimson Peak” should send her home with the Oscar. She absolutely steals the movie from Wasikowska and Hiddleston. Her costars deliver phenomenal performances as well but Chastain is just having so much fun playing what is ostensibly the film’s villain. Her intensity puts her on a completely different level.
Since this film is a period piece, it almost goes without saying that the costumes are extravagant. I’m going to say it anyway: the costumes are extravagant. They are amazing and completely impractical and it is great. Edith’s bathrobe is basically a giant doily and all of the nightgowns seem to be made of tissue paper. The ruffle and puffy sleeves quota are filled at least twice over.
The real star of the film is the mansion itself. Allerdale Hall sits on top of Crimson Peak, a hill of red clay that earned its name and eerie reputation from the way the color of the clay seeps through the snow. The house has seen better days. There is a hole in the ceiling of the main entry that lets in rain and snow. The thick red clay oozes from the walls and out of the faucets, turning the water red. Edith probably should have refused to live there, honestly.
The most amazing part about the set, and probably the entire film was how much of the mansion was a real set. According to an interview with the Los Angeles Times, del Toro had a three-story mansion with a working elevator built on a soundstage. It looks and feels like a real place. The overwhelming scale of the house is terrifying on its own but the darkness and the attention to details are just incredibly impressive.
I want this film to sweep the Academy Awards. I want the costume and set designers to win all the Oscars. I want the actors to be recognized for their performances, especially Chastain. I want del Toro to win Best Screenplay and Best Director. They are all so deserving. But it is very early in the Oscar season. Nominees for the Academy Awards won’t even be announced until January.
Please, I’m begging you. Ignore every other review you have read for “Crimson Peak.” Go see it immediately.