12-18 February 2016 #795

Crimson Peak

A film absolutely worth watching, mainly for the unbelievable sets, costumes, and the performances
Sophia Pande

At the beginning of this millennium, three extraordinarily different, very talented film-makers from Mexico made quite an impact in Hollywood. Alejandro González Iñárritu blew everyone away with his visceral, brilliant, frankly hard to watch Amores Perros, featuring dogfighting among other crazy things in 2000, followed by Alfonso Cuarón’s raw, tender coming of age Y Tu Mamá También in 2001, and Guillermo del Toro’s subtle, excellent horror flick, The Devil’s Backbone, the same year.

Today, these three directors are some of the biggest players in the mainstream film industry, with Iñárritu winning an Oscar for Birdman last year and up again this year with a nomination for the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Revenant. Cuarón made an incredible impact with Gravity, for which he won the Best Director Oscar in 2013. But my favourite of the three is del Toro, whose critical best, in my humble opinion, has been Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) but who continues to make over-the-top films in the horror, fantasy, and sci-fi genres with a verve and glee that makes each film a brim-full of fun. A case in point being Hellboy (2004), and the most recent extravaganza Pacific Rim (2013) – which was patchy but jaw-droppingly riveting.

Crimson Peak, a gothic horror romance, is del Toro’s latest endeavour. While it is entirely predictable, it is absolutely worth watching, mainly for the unbelievable sets, costumes, and the performances of Mia Wasikowska as the naïve but plucky Edith Cushing, supported by the wonderful Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain as two scheming but charming English aristocrats, Sir Thomas and Lady Lucille Sharp.

Set in the 19th Century, Crimson Peak follows all of the tropes of the classic gothic horror film – a little bit too much by the book unfortunately to be truly interesting – in a script co-written by del Toro. Fortunately, the machinations by the Sharps are so deliciously devious: Edith is clever enough not to elicit disgust on the part of the viewer (a sentiment all too frequent in horror movies) and Hiddleston’s charm, as the troubled handsome Sir Thomas, is such that one is compelled to keep watching.

By the time we shift locations from America (Edith is the daughter of a wealthy self-made business man there) to the remote Allerdale Hall in England, the setting of quite the scene of horrors, the atmosphere is thick with foreboding. There are secrets in every corner, and although we can guess most of them, some will still shock even the most sanguine of viewers.