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CRIMSON PEAK (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Callum Greene,
Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain,
Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver

Guillermo Del Toro’s new movie is a beautifully made, decadent dish for any fan of old-fashioned gothic horror such as The Innocents, The Haunting or the ’60s Hammer films.

If you’re looking to have the wits scared out of you, Crimson Peak is not that film, but it does offer some shivery moments when heroine Edith (Mia Wasikowska) prowls the dark corridors of her new home, lit candelabra in hand, after hearing strange noises in the middle of the night.

With his ability to hint at darkness under the sunniest smile, Tom Hiddleston (best-known to the uninitiated as Marvel’s Loki) was simply made for the role that’s a combination of Cary Grant’s penniless charmer in Suspicion and the brooding Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Much like Joan Fontaine in many a ’40s film, naive American Edith has married a dashing but destitute Baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) who first came to her father seeking an investment to fund the excavation of the blood-red clay that forms the foundation of his hilltop home, Allerdale Hall.

Or, as the locals have dubbed it, Crimson Peak, because the red clay seeps through in the wintertime, staining the snow a bright, gory red. If that visual doesn’t make you swoon a little, then this film is definitely not for you.

Sharpe lives with an icily aloof sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, relishing her role as the tightly wound Mrs. Danvers of the trio). Their palatial house is literally falling apart, which makes it an improbable place to live, but a beautiful set piece, with leaves and snow falling through the open rafters.

The only jarring element in this perfectly crafted snow globe of a film is the ghosts themselves, whose goriness is an almost shocking contrast to the exquisitely tasteful art and production design. The ghosts, who still have flesh on their poor bones, feel as if they’ve wandered in from another, far more gruesome movie.

Perhaps because the film is set in the 19th century, one expects ghosts more like the spectral figures seen in the spirit photographs earlier in the film. There are also a few graphic bits of violence and a brief sex scene (yes, Hiddles shows his backside) that remind us that, despite the loving homage, we are definitely not in the same filmmaking era as The Haunting and The Innocents.

If gothic romance isn’t your cup of tea (and yes, cups of tea feature prominently in the narrative that takes a page from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious), then you might not get caught up in Crimson Peak‘s spell.

This happens to be exactly my cup of tea, and I was spellbound throughout.

Yes, you’ll guess some of the film’s revelations. Yes, you’ll likely find a few things over the top. But if  your taste runs more towards House of Usher than Poltergeist or Sinister, get your gothic-loving soul to Crimson Peak.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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