Movie Review: Crimson Peak
R | 119 min
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
by Jason Koenigsberg
From the ominous music over an all red Universal and Legendary Pictures logo, Crimson Peak just gives the audience the feeling that this film is going to attack your visual senses with very cool and disturbing images. From the opening shot of Mia Wasikowska on, it never lets up.
She plays Edith, a young aspiring writer struggling to succeed in the late 1800’s United States in a male dominated society. In the aftermath of a tragedy our main character is swept away by her love for a mysterious stranger (Tom Hiddleston) where she goes across the Atlantic to England to live with him and his sister (Jessica Chastain) in their dark and spooky mansion. Of course trouble follows Wasikowska’s character and the man she married and his sister are not all they appear to be. That is the plot of Crimson Peak in a nutshell but this movie is anything but a story-based picture.
Crimson Peak is all about the visuals, which are both striking and ominous throughout. The look of the movie is better than anything else in it and features fantastic costumes, set design and cinematography in every shot. Each frame features such beautiful artistry it is worthy of being hung on a museum walls.
Crimson Peak is directed by Guillermo del Toro, (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) who is one of the best and most uncompromising auteurs of big budget pictures this century and Crimson Peak is a first-rate stylistic testament of his visionary talent. He creates a genuinely creepy atmosphere for the whole film. Within this films great art direction and cinematography, Guillermo del Toro shines with masterful direction of the camera with small moments and displayed great use of light and shadows to illustrate characters true intentions. One such moment was the impressive introduction to Jessica Chastain’s character as she plays the piano, from her hair and make-up, to her red dress; the audience is given clues to foreshadow her purpose in the script.
Speaking of the script, unlike many costume period pieces, all of the characters in Crimson Peak spoke very naturally. It was a surprisingly interesting commentary on class structure in America and worked because of how the actors delivered the dialogue that highlighted women being used and manipulated by men in high society.
Also notable in Crimson Peak is the editing that compliments the pictures great use of colors, especially red and blue, which really pop like in a Kubrick film. They use the iris technique in some instances to transition to a new scene, which add to the films old-fashioned look and tone. There are no cheap thrills here. Crimson Peak is all about the mood and atmosphere.
It is a gothic supernatural mystery, not an all out fright fest, which may end up disappointing audiences even though there is obvious influence from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). In fact, that is the best way to sum Crimson Peak up in a sentence, The Shining in a gothic period-piece setting.
The ending is a tiny bit of a letdown, after all the haunting imagery, it comes down to a climactic chase and fight scene between two of the main characters. It would have been more satisfying if they gave the audience a bit more than that, but otherwise Crimson Peak delivers on a visual level in the highest regard.
It is a shrewd genre exercise for Guillermo del Toro that pays off. Other directors have gone the costume drama route and succeeded, Kubrick with Barry Lyndon (1975), Scorsese with The Age of Innocence (1993) and Spielberg with Amistad (1997). Are any of those pictures the best films from those directors? Of course not, but they are all worthy accomplishments on each ones resume and now Guillermo del Toro has his period piece and he made it his way with the sumptuous visual style only he could have created.