Crimson Peak movie review: humorous gruesome

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Crimson Peak green light

A deliciously creepy haunted-house story. Oozes eldritch atmosphere yet plays with our genre expectations in ways that make it as funny as it is scary.
I’m “biast” (pro): love del Toro and the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

A few years ago, with Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro took the 1950s Japanese monster movie and made it his own by combining modern flash and up-to-date attitudes with old-fashioned pulp energy. Now he does the same for gothic horror in Crimson Peak, a deliciously creepy haunted-house story that oozes eldritch atmosphere yet plays with our genre expectations in ways that make the movie as funny as it is scary. We may expect walls that drip blood, but do we expect a rational scientific reason for such a gruesome spectacle? We may expect ghosts to torment our hapless heroine, Mia Wasikowska’s (Madame Bovary, Maps to the Stars) charming and spirited Edith Cushing of Buffalo, New York, but do we expect– no, I shan’t reveal any more.

Edith is an ambitious modern women — for 1890s values of “modern,” and also in some ways still for today, too — who dreams of getting her spooky fiction published; she deems herself more Mary Shelley than Jane Austen, and resists writing the love story editors believe she is more suited for. Crimson Peak itself reflects Edith’s commitment: though she meets, falls for, and eventually marries the handsome British aristocrat, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston: Muppets Most Wanted, Thor: The Dark World), this is not a love story: it is the tale what happens when she returns to England with Thomas and his Morticia Addams-esque sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain: The Martian, Interstellar), after the wedding, to the Sharpe manor, an ominous imposing pile of a house, shrouded in gloom and surrounded, of course, by miles of nothing but empty gray moors. The undead roam the creaky hallways, and Edith is very clearly in danger in this place. And yet while she is most definitely frightened by what is happening in the house, she is also determined to solve the mystery of it.

Genre tables are turned as the secrets of the house and of the Sharpes are revealed; perhaps the only non-spoilery example I can offer is that at times, Edith wandering the house at night with her long hair and white nightgown is more traditionally ghostlike than anything else you will see here. (No, she is not secretly a ghost or actually dead or anything like that; this isn’t that sort of ghost story.) Writer (with Matthew Robbins: Mimic) and director del Toro has his tongue as firmly in his cheek as, well, that axe was once buried in someone’s head in the Sharpe family history, and the marvelous cast is along for the ride, too, walking a razor-fine line between straight dramatic performances and over-the-top furniture-chewing melodrama. And what furniture there is to chew, all velvet curtains and overstuffed armchairs and four-postered, flying-buttressed beds. Crimson Peak is great good fun, pure popcorn entertainment of the highest, eeriest order.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Crimson Peak for its representation of girls and women.

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Bluejay
Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 3:43pm

Wait, there are rational explanations for the mysteries in the story? So this is basically, like, the most gorgeously-produced episode of Scooby Doo ever? This film just got a lot more interesting to me. :-)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 4:13pm

Er, not quite. It’s not a mystery that has a rational explanation but a trope of the genre that is not, actually, rendered as a mystery here. All part of the fun!

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 4:42pm

No “It was the Governess all along!!” ?

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  LaSargenta
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 4:49pm

And she would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those pesky kids.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  LaSargenta
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 9:59am

Nope!

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Bluejay
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 4:56pm

If Guillermo Del Toro wants to direct a Scooby-Doo movie, and hire Doug Jones to play all the characters, I’ll be there opening weekend.

LaSargenta
LaSargenta
reply to  Danielm80
Thu, Oct 15, 2015 7:47pm

That would be the only way I would willingly watch any Scooby-Doo.

MarkyD
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 2:19pm

This looks like fun. We’re going to see The Martian this weekend, but we may have to go see this in a week or two.

Hank Graham
Hank Graham
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 4:49pm

I’m still not sure what I think of it, but I have to say it isn’t a movie that’s going to leave my memory any time soon.

I thought Jessica Chastain was having the time of her life giving the best Bette Davis performance Bette Davis didn’t, herself, give. Given the years of Carol Burnett imitations and parodies of this kind of work we’ve seen, it’s some kind of a triumph to go over the top this way and not fall off the other side.

My friend, Margaret, confirmed to me that Tom Hiddleston gave ‘good smolder.’ She said she hadn’t seen smolder that good since Rufus Sewell’s early days.

What’s really interesting is the dialogue del Toro has running with every other Gothic romance, and the clear evocation of “Jane Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights,” (and there is a distinct reference to the book instead of that damn movie), and “Rebecca.”

Also, in a cast of very fine actors doing very fine work, I’d like to single out Jim Beaver as the heroine’s father. He is mostly a stage actor who hasn’t been seen much on the screen, but he was particularly good, I thought.

Jonathan Roth
Jonathan Roth
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 9:30pm

Horror, no… not interested.

Horror Comedy? I’m in.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Jonathan Roth
Sat, Oct 17, 2015 8:41am

Very sly comedy. It’s not *Hotel Transylvania 2.* Thank god.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Thu, Feb 01, 2018 9:37pm

If nothing else, the artistic success of this exercise in — shall we say — splatterpunk gothic worked well enough to give me more faith in del Toro’s The Shape of Water project than I used to have. Then again this is a movie that was described as “too weird” by the same sibling who has been pushing me to watch The Walking Dead and Orphan Black. I leave it to you all to decide whether that should be considered a plus or a minus.