Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Guillermo de Toro's gothic horror drama "Crimson Peak" is visually sumptuous and a triumph of set design even if the picture is not particularly scary. The director, whose metier is cinematic grim fairy tales, has paid close attention to the small details in this film, from the costumes to lavishly decorated hallways and rooms of the titular estate, and the film's visuals are all the better for it.

So, while the film is not among del Toro's best movies, which typically combine political intrigue or historic backdrops a la "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Devil's Backbone," it's still a good piece of entertainment.

In the picture, the amusingly-named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) yearns to be a writer and lives with her industrialist father in late 19th century Buffalo. They are visited by a British pair of siblings - Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) and Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) - who are interested in doing business, but during their stay, Thomas woos Edith, much to the chagrin of her father, who clearly doesn't trust the guy.

However, Edith's father is brutally murdered during one of the film's surprise bouts of graphic violence, leaving Edith distraught. Thomas comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his creepy old palace in England, where clay in the soil seeps up through the ground and causes the snow during the winter to have the appearance of a sea of blood, hence the estate's nickname and the film's title.

As soon as she arrives, Edith, who claims to have been visited by the ghost of her mother as a young girl and has a penchant for seeing dead people, senses that something is awry. I'm not sure which of these was the tip-off - ghoulish beings coming out of closets or through the floorboards and whispering warnings or Lucille's increasingly erratic behavior.

While "Crimson Peak" is a little light on story, it's heavy on atmosphere, visuals and - perhaps, a little too much so - special effects. There are some nice touches, from leaves falling through the estate's roof and drifting down through the light to the entryway and a spooky old elevator that creaks and clangs. The performances are all pretty good, although Chastain steals the show as the peculiar and sinister Lucille.

Del Toro's films typically have a macabre element and I've found myself more engaged with his work when it has a little more context, such as "Pan's Labyrinth," as opposed to his comic book or blockbuster-esque ventures. "Crimson Peak" is good entertainment, even if it's not among the director's best work. It's a feast for the senses and those who like their horror movies to be rich in atmosphere will likely have much to admire.

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