Beware Crimson Peak, aka Allerdale Hall, home to the brother/sister duo of Sir Thomas and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain). It’s a beautiful home, but one which has been ravaged by time and the not-so-sunny English weather. Someone’s got to pay for the upkeep of the mansion, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be the Sharpe duo alone.
Enter Edith, the Sharpe’s new cash cow.
Edith (played by the likeable Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) has had a bad lot in life. Her mother passed away when she was young, she’s limited by the expectations of others in her writing career, and to round it all off her rich businessman of a father also dies in mysterious and bloody circumstances. She could have saved herself a lot of hassle and fallen for her dashing, charming admirer Alan (Charlie Hunnam), but instead she condemns herself to a world of pain, falling in love with the equally charming Sir Thomas Sharpe. Despite receiving a warning to “beware Crimson Peak” from the ghost of her mother, it seems that Edith didn’t do her research, because if she did she’d have found that it also goes by the name Allerdale Hall, the very place she ends up agreeing to move to with her new lover Thomas. The Sharpe sibling’s past is rich with both money and misdeeds, and with their money all dried up it can only mean trouble, with Edith in the middle of it all.
Structurally, the film is split into two very distinct halves. The first half of the film plays out like a traditional romance, chronicling Thomas and Edith’s courtship, and the barriers they face to spend their lives together. The second half of the film however is when we land in Allerdale Hall, and we’re introduced to its ghostly inhabitants, along with the darker side of Thomas and Lucille. The melodrama of the traditional aspects of the romance are not anywhere near as interesting as the twisted romance that unfolds at Crimson Peak though, meaning that the first half of the film is at times uneven. In fact, considering Crimson Peak came from the mind of writer/director Guillermo del Toro, purveyor of the fantastical, it’s actually quite simple, and in many ways old-fashioned.
And yet to call Crimson Peak “old-fashioned” isn’t by any means a negative. Because although it’s devoid of the big scares and bluster of modern cinematic ghost stories, Guillermo del Toro’s attention to detail on the characters, the costumes, the cinematography and the setting leaves Crimson Peak with an incredibly dense world for us to explore; a world which is both eery and beautiful. As in, remarkably beautiful. From the opulent golds and reds of Edith’s safe haven in America, to the earthy greens, and blood soaked whites of the handmade Allerdale Hall, Crimson Peak is about as accomplished in its production design, costume design and cinematography as you’re likely to see at the cinema in 2015.
It’s a shame then that Del Toro’s creature creation isn’t quite up to the standard we’ve come to expect from his films, and nor is the plot as layered as the bigger successes in his back catalogue, such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. The ghosts are reasonably creepy, but in comparison to Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man (Doug Jones) they certainly don’t rank anywhere near the best of Del Toro’s much famed creature work. This leaves us then with the real monsters of the piece, Thomas and Lucille, who are both brought to life memorably by Hiddleston and Chastain (with Chastain in particular stealing the show). It’s just unfortunate the their other-worldly roomies can’t match up to their levels of scary.
Despite the solid performances all round, and the excellent showcase of technical prowess, Crimson Peak simply isn’t as compelling as it ought to be. It’s right in Del Toro’s wheelhouse – a gothic romance, a haunted house and twisted relationships – and therefore had the potential to be something special. There are aspects of the film that are just that, but the middling script isn’t one of them, and ultimately this is what holds Crimson Peak back from hitting the heights it might have done.
A visual feast can’t elevate Crimson Peak to greatness, but it still proves to be a fun throwback to gothic romances of old.
Rating (out of 5):