Review: Crimson Peak

The tragedy of monstrous love

Daniel Dercksen reviews Crimson Peak

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Crimson Peak is a spectacular journey into a surreal fairy-tale reality where ghosts are real and rule supreme.

As a teenager in the 70s I spent most of my time in the cinema where you bought a ticket for 50 cents and could watch movies all day long.  It was here where my life was transformed by the tragic heroines and charming cavaliers from the Golden Era of cinema in Gothic Romance films like Great Expectations, Rebecca and Jane Eyre (from the 30s and 40s).

Guillermo Del Toro’s masterful Crimson Peak gloriously celebrates this long-lost era of great classics, where epic intimacy, tragic romance, and beguiling horror provided ultimate entertainment.

Crimson Peak is not a horror or supernatural film, but a Gothic Romance, where passion and the grotesque are celebrated artistically and emotionally, laced with insane encounters and fantastic delusions.

“This is a genre that was important at the end of the 18th century as a romantic reaction to the Age of Reason,’’ says del Toro.

‘’It marries things that are seemingly dissimilar: heightened melodrama layered with a lot of darkness and the Gothic atmosphere of a dark fairy tale that is both creepy and eerie.  It combines these elements to produce a unique flavour. Crimson Peak is designed to be gorgeous and beautiful, not only as eye candy but as eye protein.’’

What is Crimson Peak?

It’s Allerdale Hall, a vast Gothic mansion set atop a subterranean mine where blood-red clay seep through the snow and stains the mountain.  Reminiscent of the iconic house in Pscycho, it’s a creepy haunted house where angels fear to tread.

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The house is not just a house, but an important character in the film unlike anything you have seen before; it’s an abysmal but gorgeous creature that is very much alive and fearful.  With gaping holes in its roof and snow and withered leaves constantly blowing into the cavernous interior, the walls are bristling with thousands of moths flapping around and it is populated by ghoulish apparitions trapped for eternity and yearning to be set free.

Unruly Outsiders discover the power of love

Set in the year 1901, Edith Cushing is an aspiring writer who dreams of becoming Mary Shelley. She is an outsider in high society who finds herself torn between two rival suitors: her childhood companion Alan Michael (Charlie Hunnam), a brilliant intellect who stimulates her mind, and the irresistibly seductive Thomas Sharpe )Tom Hiddleston.

Just like Red Riding Hood’s encounter with the wolf, Edith soon finds that everything is not what it seems, when she meets Sharpe’s wicked sister, the mysterious and alluring Lucille (Jessica Chastain).

When the house takes on a life of its own, the characters discover “the power that love has to make monsters of us all”.

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Crimson Peak is not your average Gothic Romance

It’s the latest from Giulermo del Toro, who astounded us 15 years ago with his unforgettable The Devil’s Backbone where a young boy questions ‘’What is a ghost?” ‘’Is it a tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again?’’ ‘’… an instance of pain perhaps … an emotion suspended in time, like a blurred photograph?’’

Now, with Crimson Peak, the first line states that ‘’Ghosts are real.”

It’s not a ‘’I see dead people’’ supernatural film, or a ghost film, but one with ghosts in it, and from the blood curdling opening sequence, we know that we have to suspend disbelief and let our imaginations run wild.

But somehow we forget about the ominous introduction when we are swept off our feet by Del Toro’s magical allure as he relentlessly coaxes us into a captivating mystery of betrayal, deceit and mendacity.

The beauty of horror

Steeped in classical tradition, del Toro’s Hitchcockian approach and mesmerising visual style, is operatic and plays like a magnificent symphony of sound and image.

For Del Toro, “Horror has to be a beautiful thing” and his awe-inspiring vision is richly brought to life by the artistry of production designer Thomas E. Sanders (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), costume designer Kate Hawley (who worked on all 3 Hobbit films and Del Toro’s Pacific Rim), Visual Effects wizard Dennis Berardi (who also created the magic for Pacific Rim and Fight Club), and beautifully underscored by Spanish-born composer Fernando Valázques (who composed the music for Mama, produced by Del Toro).

Please make sure to stay for the title sequence at the end of the film. It is and truly exquisite work of art.

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Merging extreme emotions

Del Toro’s meticulous manipulation is spellbinding, seducing you into a hypnotic state of idyllic compliance and ultimate reverence.

But, be warned! Don’t be fooled by del Toro’s charming and magical powers. He has a wicked dark sense of fear and there are moments of pure gasping horror when he strikes a mean blow like a wounded tiger.

He plays a delightful and mischievous cat and mouse game with his audience, drifting from reality to fantasy, from fear to adoration, sometimes merging these extreme emotions into untarnished melodrama that forms the life blood of Gothic Romance.

Just like the tragic heroine of the story, del Toro slowly lifts the veil of mystery and reveals dark (and bloody secrets).

Superb performances

Crimson Peak is not only a rewarding visual experience, but offers a meaningful emotional experience with a superb cast vividly bringing their vibrant characters to life.

Jessica Chastain is sensational as a dark and tortured soul whose passion knows no limitations, with Tom Hiddleson equally brilliant as a wounded opportunist who is relentless in his quest to find happiness.

Chastain and Hiddleson sizzle as two champions who want to rule, no matter what the cost; there is an incredible sadness in their union, a desperate outcry for answers to their suffering and torment.

Mia Wasikowska perfectly captures the wide-eyed wonder of a tragic heroine, with Charlie Hunnam delivering great support as a young idealist who wants to protect the object of his affection.

Verdict

If you are looking for a cinematic experience that provides ultimate escapism, Crimson Peak delivers on all levels.

It’s a film you completely immerse yourself into, getting lost in the maze of mysteries and spectacle that devours logic and reason.

For once, we can believe in ghosts and at the rousing finale of Crimson Peak realise that they are simply as lost and misguided as those who fear them, desperately trying to protect the malevolence that killed them.

Take a trip to Allerdale Hall and dare to stay overnight. You won’t regret it.

It is released on October 30 in South Africa.

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Copyright © 2015  Daniel Dercksen