“It starts holding onto things… keeping them alive when they shouldn’t be,” says Thomas Sharpe.
It’s very difficult to get a good, new haunted house movie these days. Many of the horror movies being made now are still following the found footage trend
(the recent good ones have had to get creative with their premises). Leave it to master filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro to revitalize the haunted house horror film with a movie that harkens back to films such as The Innocents, the original version of The Haunting, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Shining. Del Toro’s film was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year for me. I got a chance to catch a sneak preview of Crimson Peak last month on the big screen, and it did not disappoint. If you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned gothic horror film with a creepy atmosphere and some chilling surprises, then look no further.
2015’s Crimson Peak follows a young woman who, while trying to start a writing career in the early 1900s, meets a mysterious baronet, falls in love with him, and moves in with him and his sister into their crumbling estate in England after they are married. There, she slowly realizes that something is amiss and investigates, only to discover some life-threatening revelations. Del Toro gathered an impressive cast that includes Mia Wasikowska (as Edith Cushing), Tom Hiddleston (as Thomas Sharpe), Jessica Chastain (Lucille Sharpe), Charlie Hunnam (as Dr. Alan McMichael), Jim Beaver (as Carter Cushing), and Jonathan Hyde (as Ogilvie). Wasikowska is excellent as the innocent, aspiring writer who was traumatized by her mother’s death at a young age (being subsequently visited by her mother’s frightful-looking spirit didn’t help). She brings strength and empowerment to the role, with her naivite slowly disappearing as things get worse at Allerdale Hall. Hiddleston brings charm and sympathy to a complex role where not everything is what it seems. Chastain is quite the scene-stealer in a role that is much more juicy than it first seems.
Del Toro’s strong direction draws strong performances from his cast and his signature style results in a beautiful-looking film. The screenplay by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins is a deliberately slow-paced gothic romance thriller that draws in the audience and, once the true terror starts, traps them and takes them along for a horrific ride. It deals with life, death, and love (including one very specific, twisted type of love that I dare not spoil here). I also liked the symbolism of the family ring; the marks left by it foreshadow what becomes of those who wear it. Even Allerdale Hall functions like another character in the film (it seems very much alive and, like the family ring, it too leaves marks on those who inhabit the house).
Dan Laustsen’s cinematography complements the tone of the film while contrasting with some of the characters (it’s been a while since I’ve seen such a gorgeous film filled with characters who are so ugly on the inside). Thomas E. Sanders’ production design creates an eerie, turn-of-the-century New York and an even creepier Allerdale Hall (the house alone should garner Sanders an Oscar nod). Bernat Vilaplana’s editing moves the film at an effectively slow pace, and Kate Hawley’s period costume designs are stunning to look at. The special effects are first-rate, as is Fernando Velazquez’s hauntingly beautiful, string-dominated score. Guillermo Del Toro makes a successful return to the horror genre with Crimson Peak, a period haunted house movie with shocks and twists that will stay with you long after the film is over.