Sunday, 29 November 2015

I've Just Seen: Crimson Peak (2015)

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.


  1. I agree with your conclusion here, but that's something common to a lot of del Toro's work. Humans are always the epitome of evil in his films and it's the monsters who tend to highlight that. In fact, most of del Toro's monsters are neutral, or "evil" by nature rather than desire. It's true in Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth, for instance. He likes to put his monsters and ghosts on the moral landscape between his human characters. For him, humans are both the most and least moral things in the story.

    1. Exactly, which is why his films stand out against the typical use of monsters in the horror genre. I can think of many other films about monsters where humans are portrayed as equally vicious or even more moral depraved than in del Toro's films.

      Such an approach is very apt considering what we are seeing happen around the world. Humans need to remember that 'evil' is just as much a human characteristic as 'goodness.'