Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Runtime: 1hr 59mins

The initial reactions to Guillermo del Toro's latest film "Crimson Peak," was one of surprise that it isn't really a horror film. In fact, it's been said that in certain screenings in which del Toro himself attended, he introduced the film by explaining that the marketing campaign has had it all wrong. Rather than a horror film it's an unsettling, Gothic romance in which a handful of ghost appear.

In fact, outside of an opening scene in which a ghost appears, there isn't a ghost for quite some time after, and the central characters don't make it to the title location until about halfway through the film. That opening sequence involves young Edith Cushing receiving a visit from her deceased mother, who warns her to beware Crimson Peak. This ghostly apparition makes at least one other appearance, again to warn her. Nevertheless we know she has to end up there.

After meeting Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), now adult Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is quickly taken with him. Her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) is less taken with him. Thomas does connect with Edith by finding a fascination in her writings about ghost stories, which her father is less interested in. His admiration for her work is the spark of their feelings for one another. Despite her father's insistence against it, she pursues a relationship with him. That does, of course, lead to some drama as Thomas continues to woo her in the form of dances and charming dialogue. It's all much to her father's dismay, who continues to not trust him. That distrust is not mistaken. Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) had originally come to seek financial aid from from Carter for Thomas' broken down machine. His interest in Edith, would look suspicious if Hiddleston's performance wasn't so convincing. That's for good reason too. Thomas is indeed falling for Edith, he just so happens to need money for his machine as well.

They soon marry and end up going to the house on Crimson Peak where Thomas and Lucille live. The house is called Allerdale Hall, and the true name of the location isn't brought to Edith's attention until after she's spent some time there, even if the peculiarities of the place should have clued her in. The house feels like it's a living thing. As its slowly sinking into the ground, the wet red clay seeps in through cracks in the floor making it look like its bleeding. It breathes as the wind enters the creaks and cracks and finds its way throughout the house. There are moths and butterflies on the walls that make it look nearly constantly in motion. The windows look like eyes, and the arch doorways look like humans. Its unique visual style is the work of a brilliant visual filmmaker with acute attention to detail working at the top of his game.

The butterflies and moths are one of the more unique bits of visual flair that appear throughout. There's a conversation between Lucille and Edith earlier on in the film about how beautiful the butterflies are and how sad it is that they all die out. Only moths can survive the colder temperatures, Lucille tells her. Edith's poofy dresses tend to look like butterfly wings, and later on Lucille's lengthy attire resembles that of a moth.

Even the casting of Mia Wasikowska as Edith seems a smart aesthetic choice. Her golden hair fits with her golden dresses and her rich upbringing. Her father's house is decadent, and it's a far cry from the broken down old ruin she would move to with Thomas and Lucille. Their dark clothing and black hair contrast with Edith's golden color pallet and serve as a warning in case there were any doubt.

Those dark clothes also look noticeably tighter than the clothing on everyone else. At one point Edith remarks to her father that Thomas is in a fancy suit that appears to be at least 10 years old. It's clearly his father's suit, and Lucille's dress doesn't appear all too different from the one their mother was wearing in the painting that catches Edith's eye in one scene. Yet these siblings share with Edith that their parents were the evil responsible for raising them to be whatever it is that they are. The father was notably absent, and their mother tended to lock them away in the upstairs room. They had only each other to entertain themselves.

It is a story of failed parenting if you should choose to see it that way. Not terribly different from "Beasts of No Nation," in which parental figures tend to raise their children in the worst way possible. What they become is far worse than we can imagine. Nevertheless, much like in "Beasts of No Nation" they aren't all bad. In fact, del Toro smartly gives them layers, and allows us time to understand them. Nevertheless there is a sense of mystery about them, their intentions, and how Edith and the ghosts factor into this story of romance and family.

The plot itself is actually fairly simple when it comes down to it. It's even reminiscent of Hitchcock classics, which is to say it isn't something, necessarily, we haven't seen before. Yet del Toro's execution of it is what makes it a must see. Hitchcock fans will, undoubtedly, think of "Notorious" and "Rebecca" as inspirations for del Toro's vision here, and rightfully so. But "Crimson Peak" is also in a similar vein to his own earlier work "Pan's Labyrinth," which was an emotional tale that happened to feature a number of supernatural or fairy tale elements. 

I should stop before I say too much, because, after all, this isn't the sort of film you'd want to hear too much about before seeing. Suffice it to say, Guillermo del Toro is without a doubt, one of the most brilliant visual filmmakers working today. "Crimson Peak" feels like a blast from the past, not just because of its setting, but thanks, in large part, to its similarities to classic Hollywood films. I assure you, that's a good thing. Whether I like all of his films or not, he is a filmmaker who is sure to deliver a unique visual spectacle. And this is, without question, one of his best films. The emotions are real, whether its the familial ones or the romantic ones. And, in true del Toro fashion, the terror is real too.

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