Review: CRIMSON PEAK (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Review: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

Guillermo del Toro's highly-anticipated return to the horror territory is brutal, yet twisted love story with an eerie Gothic undertone.

Over the past decade, Guillermo del Toro has been exploring various genres including fantasy (2006's PAN'S LABYRINTH), comic-book (2002's BLADE II, 2004's HELLBOY and 2008's HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY) and science fiction (2013's PACIFIC RIM). With CRIMSON PEAK, this movie marked his long-awaited comeback to the horror genre in 14 years since 2001's THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE.


CRIMSON PEAK begins in Buffalo, New York in the early 1900s as we are introduced to a young aspiring author named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), who lived with her father Sir Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Ever since Edith was a child, she has been haunted by the ghost of her deceased mother who warned her about a mysterious place called Crimson Peak. Then one day, Edith meets handsome English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). They fall in love, even though Edith's father isn't fond of him. When her father died mysteriously, Edith has no one left except Thomas, who soon marries her and both of them subsequently move to his family estate known as Allerdale Hall, and live together with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But Edith's new home turns out to be an unpleasant experience as she is frequently haunted by ghosts wandering around the mansion during the night.


As usual in a Guillermo del Toro movie, every technical aspect of CRIMSON PEAK is meticulously crafted to eye-catching perfection. Thomas Sanders' production design for the period setting of the early 1900s New York is visually exquisite. But his design for the Allerdale Hall mansion remains the star attraction of this movie. Instead of relying on computer-generated effects, the mansion is actually built from scratch using practical materials. All the detailed craftsmanship ranging from the hallways, staircase, rooms, elevator, kitchen and basement is a mesmerising sight to behold. Special mentions also go to Kate Hawley's sumptuous costume design, as well as Dan Laustsen's perfectly moody cinematography and Fernando Velazquez's haunting score.

From the narrative point-of-view, del Toro and his co-writer Matthew Robbins (1997's MIMIC) does not restrict only as a mere tribute to the classic haunted-house genre, but also blends an effective mix of romance and character-driven drama. The Buffalo-set scene during the first half of the movie is deliberately paced like a true period piece, which might be a turn-off for those with a short attention span. However, thanks to the wonderful chemistry of Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston, the slow-burn drama is subtle enough without succumbing into boredom. The second half, which takes place in the Allerdale Hall mansion, contains most of del Toro's signature direction that we come to expect from his brand of horror movie. Here, he successfully staged the mansion setting as if it has a life of its own, complete with a foreboding sense of dread and creepy atmosphere. Apart from that, del Toro doesn't skimp on the unflinching violence, which is both vivid and shocking.

Both Wasikowska and Hiddleston deliver fine performances. The supporting actors, including Jim Beaver and Charlie Hunnam, who plays Edith's doctor friend Dr. Alan McMichael, are equally worthwhile. But of all the cast, it was Jessica Chastain who emerges the best with her icy performance as Thomas' edgy sister Lucille.


There are three scenes that worth mentioning here: the brutal death of a character involving a bathroom sink; the disquieting scene where Lucille feeds Edith a spoonful of porridge; and the blood-soaked finale involving a knife and a shovel.


Although del Toro and Matthew Robbins did a good job laying out the genre-bending setup, the story feels vague when it finally comes to the specifics. Another problem is the CG effect used for the ghoulish spirits. It looks too obvious, and almost feels like watching a cut scene from a horror video game. While I enjoyed the violent finale, there's a nagging feeling that del Toro could have extended the scene further with more scares.


After all these years, I'm glad del Toro still has what it takes to make a visually-stunning horror picture that is more than just an eye candy. Even with all the shortcomings, CRIMSON PEAK definitely ranks among the best of del Toro's works in the horror genre.

* This review is written courtesy from UIP Malaysia press screening *

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