Cinematic Releases: Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro takes a break from giant robots to bring us back to his roots.

I wonder if there is a checklist somewhere in the annals of screenwriter central. A small slip of paper with a few essential elements that must exist in every script branded with the label of "Gothic horror." Creaky old haunted house? Check. Creepy diegetic piano music? Check. Exceptional sound design from Oscar-winner Randy Thom? Check. Well, not all Gothic horror films boast that last one, but dammit, they should.

"I don't care if it's DC.
 I will play The Penguin!"
From the opening frames of Crimson Peak, it's evident that we are in the hands of a master craftsman who knows exactly what he's doing. Guillermo del Toro's new film drips with palpable atmosphere so thick and visually rich it makes you want to run up and lick the screen to see if it's as delicious as it looks. The haunted Allerdale Hall set ranks with the very best cinematic constructions I've ever seen, brought to life through del Toro's lens so vividly that it becomes a central character. Our first glimpse of this monolithic mansion is enough to take your breath away. Let your eyes wander to all the corners of the screen and drink it in like a fine wine. You could get drunk on these intoxicating vistas.

Every detail about this movie has been meticulously designed to perfection. Except the script. The entire first act feels like perfunctory setup, sprinkled with an smattering of jump scares. It telegraphs so many punches that it ruins many of its own surprises, right before finally taking off like a rocket and never looking back. There's ghosts, there's gore, there's awkward Victorian era sex through mountains of clothing, and who could forget Charlie Hunnam still hopelessly trying to mask the fact that he's Australian.

Crimson Peak boasts an all-star trifecta of Mia Wasikowska (Stoker), Tom Hiddleston (Loki, bitches), and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). All of them are really terrific. Hiddleston brings exceptional depth to his performance. Everyone knows him as Loki, but it's clear he's got a very bright future ahead of him outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chastain continues to knock us out time and again with her great work, and here she manages to hit some notes we haven't seen before. Wasikowska is the only one who seems to be going through the motions here. Between Stoker, Alice in Wonderland, and Maps to the Stars, we've seen her variations on this character before: The doe-eyed idealist who gets swept into a world that resets her moral and/or psychological compass. We really like you, Mia. Just don't be afraid to try new things.

"Is that Janet Leigh 
taking a shower?"
In the end, the real stars of the show are Guillermo del Toro, his production designer Thomas E. Sanders, and cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Their work here is absolutely superb. Every frame pulsates with visual genius. Sanders and Laustsen both deserve Oscar nominations for their work. Along with the epic haunted house, Sanders' attention to detail in recreating the period is nothing short of majestic. Laustsen, who previously collaborated with del Toro on Mimic, paints his canvas with broad and colorfully surreal strokes that evoke memories of the best work by Mario Bava. And all the while, thumping in the background like the evil genius that he is, Randy Thom with his headphones, teasing our auditory nerves until the hair on the back of our neck stands on end. This may not be a horror film, but del Toro knows how to bring the scary. In collaboration with Thom, he proves that it's not just what you hear, but what you think you may be hearing that scares us all into turning on the lights.


- Blake O. Kleiner

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