July 13, 2016

Film Review—Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro

Edith Cushing believes in ghosts. Her belief was made certain after her mother visited her after she passed, giving her the warning to “beware of Crimson Peak”. Years later, she has completed the manuscript to her first novel, a ghost story, seeing herself as something of a Mary Shelley, although a potential publisher would prefer works of a more romantic sort. Edith’s father, a successful industrialist, is visited by English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe, who is visiting America with his sister Lucille, looking for investment in a device that will effectively mine the blood red clay upon which their ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, sits. Not taken with the prototype or the air of privilege that surrounds Sharpe, Cushing refuses to invest. However, Edith is slowly becoming enchanted by the baronet, and soon finds herself his bride and accompanying him to live in Allerdale Hall, which in the winter is known as Crimson Peak, were dark secrets are discovered and threaten the new bride.

The story is less a frightening tale than a homage to several horror traditions. It makes direct references to the likes of Mary Shelley and Arthur Conan Doyle, an author as adept at creating tales of suspense as he is at inventing a super sleuth.  But its strongest link is with the Gothic fiction tradition, particularly Edgar Allan Poe. Contrasting the decaying, inescapable past that is England with the hope for promise that is American, as well as featuring an old, ancestral house made up of as much history and sorrow as it is mortar and succumbing to the weight of its trouble (ala “The Fall of the House of Usher”), the film is clearly enamoured with this rich trove of literature, and knows how to use its tropes. But director Guillermo del Toro takes yet another horror tradition, from the very medium of Crimson Peak itself. With its rich colour palette (especially blood reds, emerald greens, and deep blues), as well as the dense melancholic haze of its atmosphere, and its melodramatic tone, it is as much a tribute to the 1950s and 1960s film adaptations of Poe’s work, as well as the Hammer Horror films. Yes, this does mean much of the film is overwrought, and the links with the aforementioned film traditions may possess some creaks of campiness, but it nonetheless delivers a rich, mesmerising development of those traditions.

While its frights may lack the chills one may expect, Crimson Peak’s rich tone, striking visuals, and astute use of its varied influences will leave many very pleased with its macabre tale.

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