Movie Review: ‘CRIMSON PEAK’ – Gothic Horror/Romance at its ‘Peak’

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Preston Barta // Editor

CRIMSON PEAK | 119 min | R
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver

“It’s not a ghost story, it’s a story with ghosts in it.”

We never seem to get sick of haunted house movies and ghost stories, do we?

And why should we ever tire of a reliable subsection of horror? This is the quintessential genre that takes its time, slowly and subtly building dread in evocative worlds, then populating them with rich, unforgettable characters. Whether it’s the sly thrills from 1980’s THE CHANGELING or the effective jump-scares of 2013’s THE CONJURING, we don’t wear ourselves thin on the things that go bump in the night, especially when it comes from a place that seems safe, familiar and comfortable.

Making a much-anticipated return to the genre he helped redefine in recent years, filmmaker Guillermo del Toro places his CRIMSON PEAK on the list of haunted house greats. He has spent his career channeling old-school horror-thrillers (PAN’S LABYRINTH, THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE), while also making them his own. Del Toro tips his hat to the genre’s best with Crimson Peak, but also doesn’t shy away from character, class and the moments that make you shriek, of course.

Featuring a dynamic central trio in Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY), Tom Hiddleston (THE AVENGERS) and Mia Wasikowska (ALICE IN WONDERLAND), Crimson Peak invites audiences into its devilish delights through a manor that screams of death and deceit.

Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska star in CRIMSON PEAK. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska star in CRIMSON PEAK. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Set against a sumptuous Victorian backdrop, the film haunts its leads with flitting spirits and blood-red phantoms in a house that Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) describes as “a living thing.” But not only are there ghosts running around the halls of Crimson Peak’s titular estate, there’s something uncanny going on between the owners, siblings Sharpe and Lady Lucille (a knock-out Chastain).

Del Toro is the key ingredient that keeps CRIMSON PEAK from fading into forgettable obscurity. Through creaky floorboards and mysterious whispers, the filmmaker knows how to evoke a dark and timeless mood using his characteristic flair of lush mysteries and secrets hiding in every shadow.

The characters are both compelling and emotionally resonant. We understand their emotions and motivations. Each of the actors handles the drama with aplomb, and they sell the fright with vigor, especially Chastain, who gives a stirring performance as a grave woman whose grating demeanor suggests a cat with ready claws. Just you wait for her scene involving a cup of tea and a screeching spoon. It’s unsettling in the best way.

The visuals may overpower the narrative, the rules of logic may not apply, and it may be more strange than scary — but in a time where we have all but given up on contemporary horror in favor of the classics, CRIMSON PEAK shows that great horror is still lurking in the shadows.

Grade: B

CRIMSON PEAK opens in participating theaters starting at 8 p.m., and releases nationwide tomorrow.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.