With Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro has proven (to me, anyway) that when it comes to making horror movies, his wheelhouse is small. Don’t get me wrong; he makes very, very pretty movies. But they’re ultimately shallow affairs once you figure out what makes him tick as a filmmaker. His movies have become predictable. Ghosts, dark places, insects, sparse (but brutal) violence. Crimson Peak? Check, check, check, and check. There’s a lot to like, but some major issues drag down the experience as a whole.
Let me start with what did work for me, because there is some good stuff in here. The performances are great across the board. Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain as brother and sister are the highlight for me. But the real reason I was so excited for this movie was to see Del Toro’s take on Gothic romance. Everything about the visual production is immaculate, from the cinematography to the gorgeous period costumes (I see an Oscar nomination in the future) and the eerie sets throughout. There’s one particular sequence at the end of the movie (snow, giant cleaver, industrial equipment) that would have been awe-inspiring if it weren’t ruined by a moronic, unbelievable, infuriating resolution. But we’ll get to that later.
Is the movie scary? No, not exactly. There are certainly moments of brilliance, which I guess is kind of the theme here. But for the most part, the scares and tension are all formulaic. Girl in creepy house hears creepy noise, investigates creepy noise while creepy music slowly escalates to a sudden creepy silence, CREEPY SHIT HAPPENS OH MY GOD, and then another character shows up conveniently after the creepy shit just happened and is all, “What happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” and then the main girl is like, “I did see a ghost,” and the other character says, “You crazy, bitch.”
The movie lacks real tension, and because of that the overall atmosphere feels hollow. The unearthly manors that populate Crimson Peak became nothing more than eye candy for me because there’s no feeling of dread. The reason for that is you see what the ghosts look like within the first five minutes (and the trailers, which spoil basically all of the horror moments) of the movie. And boy, do they look dumb. Real dumb.
Crimson Peak suffers from a lot of the same problems as Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, another film written/produced by Del Toro. It’s filmed beautifully and the sets are fantastic, but the monster design and use of CGI kills any tension. It just looks so awful and out of place. Not only that, but the movie doesn’t follow any sort of logic when it comes to the universe. That’s fine, but the ghosts should at least have some consistency to their visual presentation, otherwise it makes no sense. The infuriating scene I mentioned earlier? It involves another ghost which looks completely different from the others, and it functions as a laughable deus ex machina. Also, the ground oozing a blood-like substance from the clay reserves in the soil certainly looks cool, but come on. No.
I did enjoy my time with the movie overall. The pacing is great, and I really enjoyed the performances. Jessica Chastain is just melodramatic enough that it’s a bit over-the-top without seeming like she’s hamming it up. She’s a real delight. I cannot overstate how beautiful this movie is, and it’s worth seeing for that alone. If they had just used conventional special effects to create the ghosts, my impression would likely be much more positive. It’s far from flawless, but Crimson Peak is a fun Gothic tale suited for the season.