Gullerimo Del Toro’s latest horror, “Crimson Peak”, was sold to me as a bone chilling ghost story steeped in gothic romanticism and laced with deep, dark secrets. The focus being Edith Cushing as she is caught in a whirlwind romance with the ever dashing Baronet Thomas Sharpe and whisked away to his crumpling family home atop a peak of blood red clay. There she lives happily with her new husband and his intense creepy sister in this charmingly derelict manor… until the ghosts comes out.
Or so I thought! While the house literally oozes the promise of gore and old school horror reminiscent of classic Del Toro, I am afraid the rest failed to deliver. Here’s why:
Ghosts! I was promised ghosts, and lots of them. The trailer made me believe that ghosts were prominent and essential to the plot – haunting every corridor. That something sinisterly, supernatural lived and breathed in that creaking house; that the siblings were in some freaking unholy allegiance to sacrifice innocent virgins just to survive. Anything!
There were maybe about three/four ghosts in the whole movie, with a couple of “scares” that barely made me jump let alone raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Our first ghost appears within the first five minutes and after Edith basically announces “Ghosts are real, end of discussion” it immediately squashes any debate if she is actually going insane or if it is all real. And after that the other ghosts seem pretty sparse, making limited appearances which were more teasing than horrifying. Besides visiting Edith, no other character really witnesses these ghostly apparitions so they felt like an afterthought, an “Oh shit, we need to add some scares… throw in a ghost!”. And okay, I’ll admit the ghosts did look impression and visually disgusting but they were just a little too CGI heavy for my tastes. So that moves us onto…
Secrets! Another major selling point of this chilling thriller was an intricately, complex web of secrets spun around mysterious characters. But before Edith Cushing even made it to Allerdale Hall, I’d guessed the majorly of the plot’s skeletons because they were buried in pretty shallow graves. Not only were the secrets clichéd but they were plainly written across every character’s face, in every exaggerated and prolonged grimace when something is hinted at. This reactions basically winked at the audience “PAY ATTENTION! NOTICE THIS, IT IS IMPORTANT”; instead of letting the audience wonder “was that my imagination?”. But because these “secrets” (which I won’t spoil for you) were pretty easy to guess, I did wonder how Edith could be so naïve to what was happening beneath her nose when it was so obvious to everyone. So then what?
The dark Gothic romance of course! “Crimson Peak” promised us characters drenched in sexual tension and darker passions that the atmosphere would crackle on screen but instead the chemistry fizzled rather than sizzled.
Firstly, when a film tries this hard to set up a strong, pragmatic female character, declaring “I’d rather be Mary Shelley and die a widow”, you really have to sell her getting swept away by an irresistible mysterious stranger. Hell, she starts off so oblivious to the opposite sex that she doesn’t realise the handsome doctor’s has feelings for her. After she arrives at the house, Edith quickly abandons her feminist ideals and ambition in favour of being clueless in love which really destroyed the credibility her character had built up at the start.
Then there is Thomas, the dashingly stiff, penniless aristocrat who she is drawn too… and he seems more like indifferent towards Edith than madly in love. And not like the classic aloof leading men in other gothic romances either. At no point in this film where I was convinced that Thomas had actual, genuine feelings for her, let alone anything resembling desire. And if I didn’t fall for it, then why did Edith? No, it is this lack of believability from both of them that’s a major problem because the romance is the driving force behind the whole movie: getting Edith to Crimson Peak.
Thankfully tension radiated from the sister, Lucille Sharpe – this Miss Havisham/Mrs Danvers of the story. From the start you just know that there something unhinged about her. With ever brooding eyes that follow her brother and Edith with an intensity, and her intense whispered monologues, that she was at risk of being the most interesting character. But I just wished more of her insanity to bleed into the mix, really play up that barely repressed instability so that her outbursts would have more weight behind it.
And finally Dr McMichael… who barely registers as important or even a character. He is mostly there as a plot device to drive the story forward or provide exposition. And as the last third of a love triangle, you’d hope he would have more purpose before his role in the third act.
Which leaves us with the real star of the movie: the house! With an impeccable eye for detail, Del Toro has always been a master of crafting beautiful worlds, and Crimson Peak’s is no different. Allerdale Hall just looked so real that I wanted to reach out and touch the oozing walls, it was like a gothic, dark Willy Wonka’s haunted house: deliciously tempting but you know it’s dangerous inside. Every aspect of the production design; the set, costumes and make up; rich, dark and immaculately planned that the house was the perfect stage for a Victorian gothic horror to unfold. I just wished that we got the chance to really explore of the house, all those crooks and crannies to unearth all those secrets.
As much as I love that Del Toro is trying to return to his roots I kinda felt that Crimson Peak is just another Devil’s Backbone, rehashed in English. This showed me that not only hasn’t grown as a storyteller but was also unable to improve on what he had already before, and done better. No matter how much enthusiasm Del Toro put into this movie, it is comes across as trying too hard: too busy trying to set up a suspenseful gothic fuelled love triangle with complex characters and creepy ghosts that the story got derailed. For me this film is better off buried six feet deep.