The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro goes back and forth between two general types of movies: mainstream action pictures (Blade II, the Hellboy installments, Pacific Rim) and artistic, Gothic-inspired horror films (Cronos, The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth). His latest, Crimson Peak, is much more in the latter category than the former. While it may not be the best example of his work in the form, the movie nonetheless offers enough phantasmagoric appeal to draw you in.

Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, an aspiring author whose mother died when she was a child. Every so often, she sees the woman's ghost, warning her to “beware Crimson Peak.” Edith doesn't know what that means, and largely forgets about it. One day, she meets inventor Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who seeks funding from her wealthy father. They fall in love, and he eventually whisks her away to Allerdale Hall, the dilapidated manor he shares with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). No sooner does she arrive than strange things begin to happen, including blood-red apparitions menacingly taunting her. The warning from Edith's mother suddenly becomes clear. Charlie Hunnam plays Alan McMichael, a doctor/family friend who loves Edith and may be the only person who can help her escape whatever malicious thing is happening at Allerdale.

Crimson Peak is first and foremost a spectacle for the eyes. Gothic imagery is so abundant that it looks like an old Hammer horror film on steroids. Every shot in the movie is gorgeously composed and thrilling to look at. Lush cinematography from Dan Laustsen, immaculate production design and art direction from Thomas E. Sanders and Brandt Gordon (respectively), and brilliant costume design from Kate Hawley all combine into a visually sumptuous experience that somehow makes bloodshed and the rundown nature of the manor look elegant. Most striking is a climactic scene in which, hair tint of the two main actresses aside, the only colors onscreen are snow white and deep blood red. This is the kind of picture you can get lost in, just from the way it looks. Guillermo del Toro and his team create an entire world that is darkly hypnotic.

The director has been careful to note that Crimson Peak is not really a horror movie, but rather a Gothic romance. While there are plenty of eerie moments, the heart of the story is the relationship between Edith and Thomas, which evolves in such a way that every time you think you have it completely figured out, you're slightly wrong. Wasikowska and Hiddleston gel nicely onscreen, creating a dynamic between their characters that keeps you invested in what transpires between them. Thomas's relationship with Lucille is perhaps even more fascinating. Crimson Peak is as much a story about the mysterious bond between siblings as it is romantic love. Jessica Chastain is terrific as Lucille, who is okay with her brother's relationship with Edith – but only up to a point. The manner in which their subplot plays out gives the story a little kick.

If there's a stumbling block to the film, it's that the thematic depth del Toro brought to his Spanish-language horror fare is notably lacking. Cronos was about fear of aging and death, The Devil's Backbone explored the impact of the Spanish Civil War on a young boy, and Pan's Labyrinth dealt with the way children invent fantasy worlds to process harsh realities they aren't psychologically equipped to deal with. In contrast, Crimson Peak isn't really about anything much deeper than its surface-level story. And that story is fine - it just keeps the movie grounded at an entertainment level, as opposed to lifting it into the realm of something really special.

Still, there are good performances in Crimson Peak, a whole lot of creepiness, and more Gothic beauty than you can shake a stick at. This may not be Guillermo del Toro's finest film, but he continues to show an admirable willingness to configure his horror influences in unusual and intriguing ways. His imagination is a thing to behold.

( out of four)

Crimson Peak is rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.

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