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

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.