Movie review of "Crimson Peak": Guillermo del Toro’s latest fantasia is a crimson-stained voyage into a house where the walls bleed, dresses seem to sprout fungus and butterflies flit throughout the film. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Early on in Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak,” the ghosts seem to be made of equal parts smoke and black lace. It’s a beautiful, old-school screech of a movie, both delicate and wildly over-the-top — as if a classic Gothic horror film exploded, leaving blood on the floor.
Recalling both del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” and 1940s Old Hollywood (particularly “Rebecca” and “Jane Eyre”), “Crimson Peak” begins in upstate New York at the turn of the last century, with young Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) at its center — a virginal writer whose wide, quiet eyes seem to be seeking love. In swans the titled, handsome Brit Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), whose vampire-pale sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) hovers nearby like a looming shadow. Edith, who clearly can’t hear the movie’s ominous score, is soon on her way to the Sharpe’s family pile, Allerdale Hall — and soon discovers more than a few Mysterious Documents, Menacing Weather Patterns, Things That Go Bump in The Night (and Day) and Dark Secrets.
Those capital letters seem appropriate, as everything here is heightened — the performances (particularly Chastain, whose eyebrows are perpetually headed to the rooftops), the music, the glorious sets and costumes. Del Toro isn’t dealing in reality here — those seeking subtlety should look elsewhere, though you’ll find a bit in the chemistry between Wasikowska and Hiddleston — but in a world underlined in red and punctuated with fountain-penned exclamation points. I suspect there’s no geological explanation for why the clay-heavy dirt surrounding Allerdale Hall causes the snow to be stained blood-crimson (if there is, do tell me, so I can avoid that region), or why the house seems to be bleeding from within — but it serves the story splendidly.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Crimson Peak,’ with Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, from a screenplay by del Toro and Matthew Robbins. 119 minutes. Rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language. Several theaters.
“Crimson Peak” is more creepy than scary (despite a couple of gruesomely violent deaths), but del Toro’s imagination blooms in every frame. Note the butterfly theme flittering through the movie (even the resident little dog is a papillon); the way that Lucille’s blue-velvet dress seems to have sprouted fungus; the birdcage-like elevator; the bone-scraping sound of a spoon stirring tea in a wispy china cup; the withered leaves floating into a house that seems to have death in its walls.
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Toward the end, perhaps we see too much of the ghosts — they’re more literal and more bloody. Suggestion is always more frightening. (“The ghosts are just a metaphor, really,” Edith murmurs about her own fiction, early in the film; it’s del Toro having a giggle.) But for most of its running time, “Crimson Peak” lets us get lost, happily, in a filmmaker’s beautiful darkness.