Crimson Peak is billed as a scary movie but isn’t scary. It’s also billed as a ghost story but it’s actually just a story that happens to have ghosts in it. What it is is another entry in the Guillermo del Toro catalogue of movies with pitch perfect atmosphere, in this case dark, brooding, and sensual.
Edith (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who lives in New York at the turn of the century. She is pursued by Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) but before anything can happen she meets and falls in love with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English aristocrat who sweeps her off her feet and takes her home to live with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chasten) in their decaying family mansion in the English countryside, Allerdale Hall. There is some resistance to this idea from Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), who takes an immediate dislike to the Sharpes, but after he suffers from an … accident in the bathroom the way is clear for our stars to fall in love.
Things are good until they aren’t. It’s clear from the start that something isn’t quite right at Allerdale Hall, and there are ghosts to prove it. The house drips with gothic details and is a central character in and of itself. The house breathes as it slowly crumbles, and bleeds as it sinks into the red clay mines beneath it, and is as much a member of the family as Thomas and Lucille are and just as broken.
How they’re broken is best left unsaid but Hiddleston handles his role like a champ. IT’s a part that could easily have gone totally over the top (and I wonder if original star Benedict Cumberbatch would have) but the wounded, tortured soul he’s able to project through the characters pretending to be whole is pitch perfect.
Wasikowska is perfect opposite him, if he’s dark and tortured then she is light and angelic and understands far more than she ever lets on. She can see something isn’t right but actively attempts to figure out and deal with it rather than ignore it. Edith has quite a bit more agency than many female characters of the past have had, never waiting for someone to come save her.
The real star of the show though is Jessica Chastain as Lucille. It’s always fun to see good actors take on the bad guy role and Chastain seems to revel in it. If Thomas is wounded then she is downright broken and for most of the film barely keeping it together. Angry but calm, sweet but controlling, Chastain brings all of this to every scene she’s in and steals them all.
Charlie Hunnam is here too. I know he was good on TV but his performance is stiff, to say the least, but at least that kind of works as the guy who shows up to save the day but maybe isn’t that qualified to do the saving.
And yes, there are ghosts, and they are suitably creepy. del Toro is a master of detail and these are, well, detailed. The ghosts ooze blood from the wounds that put them in the grave, but they aren’t really scary (outside a couple of jump scares) so much as they are unsettling and upsetting.
Crimson Peak is a sumptuous film. It’s a visual feast with sets and scenery you’ll want pause the film to see more of, well drawn and acted characters, and a meaty, metaphor heavy plot that never feels so dense that you don’t know what’s going on. To put it another way it’s balanced on the knife edge of dark melodrama and big budget blockbuster almost perfectly, which is kind of the best way to describe del Toro himself when he’ at his best.