Crimson Peak

Directed By: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, and Jim Beaver

I've been highly critical of the horror genre since I began STMR (and long before that as well).  There are few films I've given high marks in recent years including slasher flick You're Next and supernatural horror flick It Follows.  Still, the genre's been languishing in my eyes for quite some time.  The proof is in the mockumentary-flavored pudding Hollywood has been feeding us for nearly a decade now.  I've been waiting for the right director to enter the fray and do something worthwhile.  I'm happy to report that Guillermo del Toro is just that director and that his latest film Crimson Peak is indeed worthwhile.

As a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska - young adult; Sofia Wells - child) is visited by the ghost of her mother warning her to beware of Crimson Peak.  Years later, Edith continues to live with her father, successful industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver).  Unmarried and uninterested in finding a man, Edith pursues a career in writing, albeit unsuccessfully.  She also rejects the advances of longtime friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).  Altogether, Edith lives a rather boring aristocratic life.  Things change when Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his older sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) arrive in town.

One night, Edith stays in while her father and Alan go to a ball.  She is again visited by the ghost of her mother and is warned to beware of Crimson Peak.  After having a bruising business meeting with her father earlier in the day, Thomas Sharpe visits her home.  After some flirtatious chatter, Edith subsequently goes to the ball with him.  They waltz the night away.  As romance blossoms between the two, Edith unknowingly draws nearer and nearer to Crimson Peak against which her ghostly mother warned.  Meanwhile, Edith's father Carter becomes very suspicious of Sharpe and curious about his true intentions.

When it comes to big screen visuals, there's no one quite like Guillermo del Toro.  Pan's Labyrinth.  Hellboy II: The Golden Army.  Pacific Rim.  The evidence is all throughout his delightful filmography.  Crimson Peak proves this all over again as he makes the camera his paint brush one more time.  With luscious visuals abound marked by dark brownish cinematography, haunting set pieces, and some surprisingly blood-soaked poltergeists, del Toro is clearly in his element and firing on all cylinders.  Frankly, del Toro gives George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road a run for its money.  That's just how visually impressive Crimson Peak is.

Guillermo del Toro's creepy romance doesn't just offer aesthetically pleasing visuals.  There's much more to this period thriller.  Chock full of disgusting chills, well-crafted plot twists, and thoroughly developed characters, Crimson Peak boasts something that horror films rarely do these days — a strong story worth telling that's not just about ghosts or demons.  The monstrous love described on several occasions throughout the film is the central underpinning of this narrative.  For del Toro, this is to be expected.  For the genre as a whole, however, it's about damn time.  We've been desperately in need of some higher brow fare in the horror niche.

Del Toro doesn't do all the heavy lifting in Crimson Peak.  He has a talented cast on hand to bring his vision to horrific life.  For her part as Edith Cushing, Mia Wasikowska is most certainly in her comfort zone.  Frequently appearing in period pieces like Jane Eyre or thrillers like Stoker, Wasikowska makes for one formidable leading lady.  Though not rugged by any means, she imbues her character with a certain tenacity that proves to be valuable throughout the film.  For his part as Edith's husband Sir Thomas Sharpe, Tom Hiddleston gives us a slippery yet subdued character.  Though he can wear the mask of charisma, Hiddleston subtly shows that his character is tired of whatever monster rests on his shoulders.  We also have Jessica Chastain in her delightfully treacherous performance as Lady Lucille Sharpe.  Taking a break from space movies like Interstellar and The Martian, Chastain is the true standout of the film.  There's plenty of ill will in her character's black heart that comes to fruition on many fateful occasions throughout the movie, and it’s incredibly entertaining to watch.  Finally, I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Charlie Hunnam in his noble turn as the film’s moral compass Dr. Alan McMichael.  The Sons of Anarchy star gives us a far more principled character than that of his signature character Jax Teller.

It Follows
has a little bit of competition for the title of best scary movie of 2015.  As a moviegoer, I couldn't be happier.  High quality scary movies are still being released at a trickle, but Crimson Peak is one of those films that gives me hope.  Fascinating and frightening from start to finish, Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.