A sequel to Pacific Rim may be off the table for now, but writer/director Guillermo del Toro returns to directorial duty on familar ground with the haunting gothic romance Crimson Peak, starring Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnam.
Aspiring American novelist Edith Cushing is swept off her feet by the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), despite her father’s (Jim Beaver) – and that of her childhood friend, Dr. McMichael (Hunnam) – misgivings about the English inventor. After their nuptials the pair head across the Atlantic to start married life – alongside Thomas’ odd-ball sister Lucille (Chastain) – in the decrepit family mansion where the Sharpe siblings exhaustingly mine for clay. Edith’s ghostly past, however, quickly catches up with her, as the writer’s new family, and their crumbling (yet marvellously spooky looking) home, aren’t all what they’re cracked up to be.
On pitching her manuscript to a not-so-interested publisher, Wasikowska’s Edith denies her book’s a ghost story, adamantly declaring that it’s just “a story with ghosts in it.” After watching the trailers, we’d be forgiven if we’d have dismissed this ghoul-lite notion in regards to del Toro’s latest work, yet our female protagonist’s book pitch is pretty on the money. Part romance, part mystery, with a pinch of the paranormal, the dead play a supporting role in this creepily seductive, yet inbalanced, affair.
Narratively this eerie tale plays a familiar tune to old-school period dramas; a woman of good standing falls for a man she shouldn’t. Yet what stands Crimson apart is it’s lathered in a big dollop of familarly stylish del Toro artistry. Allerdale Hall – the Sharpe family home – is a monstrous piece of architecture. Built in its entirety on set, the mansion literally bleeds from its foundations. The contrasts in colour, from the beautiful period dresses of Edith to the dour, black wear of the siblings; there’s rhyme and reason for all of this as it fits into to the Pan’s Labyrinth helmer’s idealistic haunting vision.
Chastain’s portrayal as the increasingly paranoid Lucille is the film’s most eye-catching performance. A strong cast bring a mixture of intrigue, charm and wonder, but it’s the unhinged sibling – from tea pourer to butchers knife wielding maniac – as she goes full on Jack Torrance in the film’s dying sequences, that captures our attention.
There’s certainly a lot to admire about Crimson Peak. It’s a stylish gothic story that – along with its strong leading performances and magnificent set designs – has some genuinely chilling moments. Yet the film – doused in mystery, yet never fully convincing as a drama – doesn’t quite get into full gear until we step inside its awe-inspiring haunted house.