Last night I got to check out an advanced IMAX screening of Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Crimson Peak. I should start by saying that I am a lover of all things Del Toro. His films have been a major source of inspiration to me and I have devoured every article and interview with him that I can get my hands on. Needless, to say that even upon seeing the first trailer for this new film, I was over the moon. But there was, however, a phrase they used that caused me to pause. The original trailer called the film a “masterpiece”. Now, as much as I love Del Toro and his work, I found myself wondering if a film that had at the time probably just gotten into the meat of post production already be considered a masterpiece? That doubt was very quickly dashed last night. Crimson Peak is every bit the masterpiece we were promised and so much more.
The film follows Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) a budding young writer who dreams of bigger things but is under the watch of her loving yet over protective architecture mogul father. Their lives are changed forever when Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) comes to Mr. Cushing seeking funds for a project that would save his family estate and simultaneously steals the heart of young Edith. Before long (and after some considerable misfortune) Edith finds herself entwined with Sir Thomas, his domineering sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and their crumbling and ominous estate.
Every aspect of the film oozes legitimacy and care. Every costume, every piece of set decoration (in the three story house built specifically for the film), it all feels handpicked and carefully curated. The same is true of the cast. Mia Wasikowska’s Edith feels like Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Ofelia all grown up. She’s equal measures confident and whimsical, strong and love sick. Her relationship with both Thomas and Dr. McMichael (Charlie Hunannam) are the stuff of every good romance. Hiddleston and Chastain are the two standouts though. Hiddleston’s Thomas is filled with charm and love but the darkness lingering under the surface keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Chastain’s Lucille could easily have been a raving, scene chewing, icicle but she brings to the role such care an nuance that you find yourself pitying her even at her absolute worst.
Del Toro also continues his love of the things that go bump in the night with the spirits of the film. From black crumbling specters to blood red nightmares, the ghosts of the film are equal parts suit and makeup and CGI augmentation. I have heard some say that they were put off by the look of the phantoms and in the early trailer I too found myself finding them hard to believe but seeing them on screen was a completely different story. They, like the films human characters, are ghastly and pitiful. There is a moment late in the film where a new spirit arrives and the look of it harkens back to Santi, the spectral soothsayer of The Devil’s Backbone and its in that moment that you realize Del Toro has built a universe in which all of his monsters live side by side. Its that look of broken porcelain skin, amber eyes and ethereal drifting blood that you find the shared, beautiful universe he’s created.
I cannot say enough good things about the film and fully agree with the assertion that it is a masterpiece from a master of both genre and defying genre. Early reviews of the film out of Fantastic Fest in Austin have said that it is dark and beautiful but in no way a horror movie and to this I wholeheartedly disagree. Del Toro does again what he has done perfectly in the past: He gives you a transcendent story and then injects wonderful stings of horror throughout. Is it a non-stop splatterfest from start to finish? No. It is, however, the thing that Del Toro does expertly; horror with heart.
(5 out of 5 barrels)