Sunday, November 8, 2015

Crimson Peak: Del Toro's Gothic Tale

Writer-Director Guillermo Del Toro is a filmmaker who’s always worn his influences & his love of genre stories on his sleeve. His latest film, Crimson Peak, is his version of a Gothic romance, with a strong helping of the supernatural etched into the story. The movie tells the tale of Edith Cushing, a woman living in Buffalo in 1901. She writes stories about ghosts & spirits, but her editor keeps telling her to stick to love stories. Edith is close to her father, who's a successful businessman. She’s sensitive to supernatural events, after losing her mother at a young age. In fact, her mother’s ghost appeared to Edith shortly after her passing and warned her to “Beware of Crimson Peak.” But what is Crimson Peak, and what does the cryptic warning mean?

Edith meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, an Englishman who’s in town seeking investors for his clay-mining project. He meets with Edith’s father, who rejects his investment proposal. Edith & Thomas share a mutual attraction, and pursue a relationship. Edith’s father disapproves, and tries to block the romance, but he dies mysteriously. Edith marries Thomas (which gives him access to her inheritance) and moves to England with him. His sister, Lucille, who lives with them, treats Edith coldly, and seems to resent her presence. Then Edith begins to see ghosts in the strange house, and becomes distressed. Why does she feel ill all the time? Is there more to Thomas & Lucille’s story? Will Edith’s friend Alan, who’s back in America and investigating the mysterious circumstances of the death of Edith’s father, learn the truth? And can it be that the house is called....Crimson Peak?

This stylish movie is Del Toro’s love letter to a mélange of genres, including the films of Italian horror master Mario Bava, director Roger Corman’s 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and classic Gothic romances like Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Crimson Peak is an amazing looking film with stunning production design, and the use of sumptuous colors for the costumes & backgrounds adds to the rich detail. In fact, the color palette is very reminiscent of the Hammer films of the 1960s, another of Del Toro’s touchstones for the project, and you might notice Edith's last name is a tribute to one of Hammer's stars, the late Peter Cushing. And you will truly feel, as in many of Poe’s tales, that the house is a character in the story. Del Toro, and his crew, including cinematographer Dan Laustsen & editor Bernat Vilaplana, has done a masterful job. The score by Fernando Velazquez is appropriately romantic & eerie in equal measure.

The cast is excellent; Mia (Alice in Wonderland) Wasikowka, as Edith, is the perfect Gothic heroine; Tom Hiddelston, best known as Loki in the Marvel Universe films, is quite good as the handsome, brooding Thomas, and Charlie (Sons of Anarchy) Hunnam offers fine support as Edith’s loyal friend Alan. But this movie belongs to Jessica Chastain, who is equal parts mysterious, sensual, and terrifying as Lucille. If you’re a fan of Del Toro’s or the filmmakers & genres I’ve mentioned above, this is a film that’s tailor made for you. It’s old fashioned in style & approach, and more atmospheric than scary, but it is beautifully made, and well worth seeing. This dark, romantic fairy tale has more in common with Del Toro’s previous efforts, like 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, or 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, than a lot of today’s horror fare. While the movie is currently ending its run in theatres, I highly recommend checking it out on home video when it's released. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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