Crimson Peak (2015)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
I am glad that I saw this on the big screen, with the superb sound system most cinemas have. del Toro fills the screen with paraphernalia; pictures on the wall, gadgets on furniture, details on the costumes, and so. Though set at the turn of the previous century, there is a distinct Victorian feel to the story, mostly clearly displayed in the Sharpes' mansion. Its age is conveyed in the creaky, cranking movements of its structure, as though the house can hardly contain the evil it has witnessed, symbolised in the crimson clay oozing out of the walls, floor and earth.
Sound is obviously important in all films, but for science fiction and horror it is vital in creating the space and psychology of its characters. Aside from the music, there are creaks, crunches, cranks, clanks, slurps, scraps, and squenches in Crimson Peak; indeed, one of the most unsettling moments in the film is accompanied by Chastain's Lucille scraping a spoon on the edge of a cup with barely contained threat.
I was not 'scared' by the story, or even surprised by the twists; having studied English, and being a reader of a number of gothic romances, there is not much new here. However, the story is more of a homage to others gone before: Rebecca, Jane Eyre, The Mysteries of Udopho and even Austen's parodic Northanger Abbey. I liked this about the film, though I know others have accused it of being unoriginal.
The acting supports the story. Mia Wasikowska is good in the lead, convincing as a quite sensible woman who is being faced with a horrible situation. Tom Hiddleston is equally fine as Thomas Sharpe, a man who is caught between the two women he loves in the world (his wife and sister). Chastain is a bit too instense at times, but is clearly relishing her role.
I don't know whether del Toro would count himself a feminist, but he is one of the filmmakers I would count as making interesting films about women; the greatest tension in the film is between Edith and Lucille. Pan's Labyrinth also had women central to its story.
I really enjoyed this film, and flinched and squirmed several times during the gory parts. Its central idea about humans being far more terrifying than any ghostly apparition is a clever twist on a sub-genre that seems to have become unfashionable of late.