I was SUPPOSED to see this last week, but there was this power failure, see...
So THIS week I had to choose between CRIMSON PEAK and the supposedly final PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film. Tough choice. Let's see... I swore off P.A. after the fourth entry but went and saw THE MARKED ONES anyway because I took it for an "in name only" sequel. And it was actually pretty good. So maybe... JUST maybe I'll change my mind, methinks. But now? Same old storyline but with the desperation move of 3-D (in a series based on home recordings, mind you). "Limited" release means I'd have to travel significantly out of my way to see it at all. Oh, and the trailers don't look the SLIGHTEST bit interesting.
You know what? I think I can live without it. Move it next door to me and maybe. JUST maybe.
And don't kid yourself for a second that I'm going to bother with THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, either.
The problem is that very few people are checking out CRIMSON PEAK, either. And I'd hate to think it was due to the influence of contemptible, superficial reviews such as that supplied by a certain Chronicle critic who shall remain nameless.
"There is an old saying... 'Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been."' That is a ghost." Guillermo del Toro, c. 2002, as interviewed by yours truly for DEEP RED...
The John Greenleaf Whittier quotation cited above was invoked specifically when discussing Guillermo del Toro's earlier THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (still one of his strongest films and ideal viewing prior to PAN'S LABYRINTH). With CRIMSON PEAK, del Toro takes a large page from the former and transports its stylings into a lavish late-19th century Gothic romance which not only continues to showcase the director's favorite themes and motifs (the Spanish classic THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE remains one of his most important cinematic influences and continues to inform his work to this day) while simultaneously startling the comfortable viewer with some shocks from a different part of Europe...
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) knows that ghosts are real. Her mother died of a disfiguring, contagious illness when Edith was only ten, and Edith never got to say goodbye... nor was family 'closure' on her mind when the spectral form of her mother accosted her with an ominous warning. Now, as a young adult, Edith is looking to have her original "ghost story" published, and has already learned to deflect the inevitable question with "The ghost is only a metaphor." But it's not just her material--the fact that she IS a young woman will almost certainly keep her work from seeing the light of day. That is, until the charming baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives from England to sweep her off her feet. Tom, accompanied by his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain doing her best Mrs. Danvers) is out to save the family estate by seeking investors for his red-clay mining machinery operation, which puts him in the path of Edith's father Carter (Jim Beaver). Carter, however, takes an instant dislike to this dashing young operator--but even he has to figure out exactly why, and he'll pay to get whatever dirt he can.
Yes, it's financial assistance Thomas seeks from Carter. But it's Edith that receives his declaration of love and loyalty--and Thomas wants nothing more than to whisk her away from New York and to his crumbling, rotting estate... where the wet red clay seeps through the floorboards and water pipes alike... where not even a fresh coat of winter snow can maintain its purity for long before reaffirming the nickname of "Crimson Peak..." but of course, it's just a metaphor. Right?
For all the harbingers of doom, CRIMSON PEAK ranks as one of del Toro's most visually sumptuous confections yet; and despite the presence of the mother's ghost in the first scene, seems content to draw the viewer into an elegant whirlwind love story... to the point where the unwary fly just may miss the point and assume that the ghosts really ARE only metaphorical window dressing. So when the first act of violence takes place (there will be no spoilers here), it comes as a true and traumatizing shock... we've gone from A ROOM WITH A VIEW to DEEP RED in the blink of an eye--and I invoke the latter for a specific reason (remember, the same man who made REBECCA also made PSYCHO). Beyond the hammersmash of brutal giallo stylings, we have 'deep red' as a visual theme throughout, and as a result I was keeping a keen eye on the elevator... stop. Say no more.
CRIMSON PEAK is one of del Toro's most meticulously-crafted films in every department, making a recitation of the plot worse than pointless. Oh, you guessed who "did it" ahead of time? Bully for you. Doesn't change a thing (well, unless you write for the Chronicle). So it strikes you as ridiculous that Edith doesn't tell anybody else about the howling, desperate ghosts trying to show and tell her things? Did it not occur to you that Edith made peace with the existence of ghosts at a very young age and already KNOWS how people would respond if she tried to tell them? Perhaps you'd do better to catch the rich literary references seeded throughout the film? Edith is dismissed as a Jane Austen wannabe... she's got her reasons to emulate Mary Shelley instead. The sympathetic doctor (Charlie Hunnam) that Carter would much rather play suitor to his daughter? He's an avowed follower of his fellow opthamologist (and 'ghost' photographer) Arthur Conan Doyle. None of this is mere name-dropping--all of this is efficiently USED as the tale progresses. The performances ring true, the art direction speaks for itself and even the sound design is precisely tuned from the shrieking apparitions to the excruciating scrape of a spoon against a ceramic cup... and even the yawning whine of a dog that sounds suspiciously like a teakettle...
Yes, you could tell this story without the ghosts. You can argue (pointlessly) whether or not the ghosts have any noticeable effect on the outcome of the film. But it's the ghosts that make this a Guillermo del Toro film as opposed to a rehash of classic/familiar material. Are the ghosts real? Edith has already answered your question and she's even spelled out the significance of the seemingly contradictory (and appropriately HAUNTING) final shot. It's all there for you and it's all in one of the richest showcases offered up in the name of "horror" (and yes, I say this most certainly qualifies as a full-blooded "horror" film even if that's not all it represents).
See this on the big screen before the bad guys win.
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