Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance horror is a lot of things, none of them good.
When the cast includes such talent as Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain, all under the direction of Guillermo del Toro, you begin to wonder where it all went wrong. Don’t worry, I know where, but I’ll get to that later. Crimson Peak follows Edith Cushing, played by Mia, who is a free spirited young writer with a fixation on the supernatural, due to a visitation of the ghost of her mother when she was young. While she is attempting to get her novel published, she meets a wonderful man, Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston who instantly charms her. The ensuing romance is not what Edith expects, especially not Tom’s prying sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe, played by Jessica Chastain. What you get here is a Gothic Romance with tinges of the paranormal throughout.
So here’s where it all went wrong. Guillermo del Toro is not just a director, he’s a visionary filmmaker. That’s all good and fun when coming up with a concept and creating a movie, but when it comes time to film, you can’t tell every single detail. You’ve got to compress this epic you’ve got in your head to around 2 hours, and it’s not easy. Guillermo just got a little a head of himself throwing in a ton of unnecessary things. He wants to use ghosts as a metaphor of the past, he actually plainly says so in the film so no mystery there, but he also wants to scare you with them. All I want to know is why. If you want to use the ghosts as a metaphor, don’t use them for a cheap scare as well, it just makes them lose legitimacy and meaning. I could’ve done without all the ghosts because honestly, they were useless and didn’t help to drive the story at all, only complicate it with irrelevant details. There were smarter ways it could’ve been written. Then there’s the question of what genre it is. It’s a little bit of a horror, but not really. Sure, there are a few scares, but I wouldn’t bill this as a horror film. It’s also a gothic romance and seems like the pages of some strange Victorian novel came to life. However, the romance is constantly fighting with the paranormal and they both lose. One minute Edith is terrified out of her mind, and a few moments later she’s perfectly ok like nothing strange happened, happily in love with Tom. These waves of terror and love are weird, unconvincing, and strange to watch. Guillermo tried to do way too much with this movie. I’m sure he could’ve made either a great horror movie or a good romance movie, but when he tried to combine the two, he ended up with a terrible mixture that doesn’t make much sense.
The writing behind the story leaves a lot to be desired. This story would’ve been better off as a book because everything about it seemed to emulate a style of writing you’d find in a novel. The lines are dull and seem mailed in or copied from a less than inspired gothic romance novel. On top of all that, there’s very little ambiguity or mystery. Literally everything is explained or stated in very plain English. If you want to set up a truly gripping romance that’s set during the turn of the century in a time of restraint and old world values, the less that’s said is better. These are talented actors, they can speak volumes just from their expressions, you don’t need to spell it out for the audience. There was a real missed opportunity there for real depth that some bland words could never fully capture. With that said, Mia, Tom, Jessica, and Charlie Hunnam all delivered great performances despite the lacking screenplay. Words can’t describe Tom Hiddleston’s effort. From the first scene to the last, from every perfectly delivered line to his facial cues, Tom truly shows us what acting is. Jessica and Mia were great and played wonderfully off each other. Charlie was equally brilliant. The four really put on a show.
The directing was done rather well for the most part, but never sought to create the suspenseful horror many would want or really create this tense dramatic feeling that permeates the estate of Crimson Peak. Guillermo kind of played it safe and went on the middle ground. The cinematography was iffy at best. The bloody looking ghouls were scary, but everything else was either too much or felt out of place. Every death was gratuitously violent, graphic, and gory. I’m not sure who would find that level of carnage appealing. On top of that, the use of iris transitions from scene to scene was questionable at best. Those are the kinds of transitions you find in old black and white cartoons where a circle closes the picture to a black screen. If this was a comedy, I’d understand, but in a serious horror/drama/romance/serious film, it doesn’t make sense.
This was a dream that was poorly realized and tried to do way too many things for it’s own good. You’d be much better off reading a real gothic romance novel. If you’re a major fan of Guillermo del Toro and the star studded cast, you might find some redeeming qualities, especially in the impeccable performances, but don’t raise those expectations too high.