You know, trailers aren’t made for our benefit. Oh sure, we enjoy seeing a bit of a film we’re hyped for, but in reality they are just extended adverts, designed to make us go see the film. So no matter the content of the trailer, it must tell you what kind of film you are seeing because if you go see the film and it’s different to what you expected, you aren’t going to be happy. You could be eating the best chicken you’ve eve had, but you’ll still be disgruntled if you had paid for pork. So we move onto the mis-sold Crimson Peak.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) is a budding author though she is haunted by the message a ghost gave her when she was little, a message that told her never to go to Crimson Peak. She then meets and falls in love with a British industrialist called Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers) who then takes her back to his stately home in the UK. However more ghosts start to appear as it turns out that Thomas and this house hold more secrets than Edith realized.
So with Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) directing, there is one guarantee. This film is going to be gorgeous to look at. And lo and behold, it is indeed gorgeous to look at. The way del Toro picks his shots is brilliant because he manages to capture the beauty, and the horror when necessary, brilliantly, meaning that there are no placeholder shots. Each time the camera is pointing at something, it something dazzling to look at. Honestly, some of the shots in this film are so brilliantly done you want to hang them up as a painting in your living room. Plus if you did that, the fact this is in a sort of Victorian era will make you look classy to those not in the know.
What helps the sheer beauty of this film is the set design and costumes. Firstly, the sets are dripping in atmosphere. They are expertly made to firstly look beautiful, but also have that creepiness in them hidden away, which is a metaphor the film itself in a way. It’s also rather refreshing as sometimes when directors go for the gothic look, they go too far. Sure, pure gothicism looks awesome but you do wonder how anyone could live in a house like that, which takes away some of the belivability. And yes, it’s time to admire the costumes. The dresses are superbly made and the outfits all represent their characters brilliantly. Quite frankly, the fact this film wasn’t nominated for Best Costume or Production Design at the Oscars was one of the biggest travesties of the event.
Now onto the actual content because after all, the cake can be beautiful but if it doesn’t taste good, it’s just a waste of sugar. And this is also the weird part because the film straddles two completely genres. For a while, this film resembles a Jane Austen novel rather than the horror the advertising said it would heck. Heck, Austen is even name dropped at one point. The film does have some of those horror elements, such as some ghosts and a grisly murder, but it’s more Pride and Prejudice than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yeah that’s a real thing. Later on there is more and more horror which does sort of work because of the great production design backing this film up.
The big problem is that film neither commits fully to either the romance or horror conceit, meaning that both are pretty weak. A sweeping romance film that has horror elements would work well, as would a period horror film with some sort of romance. But del Toro doesn’t decide which his focus would be, so neither work to their full potential. Because we need the ghost story set up, we aren’t given the time to fall in love with the pairing of Edith and Thomas. And because we have to have the romance, we don’t have the horror elements set up enough for them to scare us or even get under our skin. Both are diluted and fail to deliver.
There are some other issues too. For all the wonderful design work, the fact the ghosts and monsters were CGI is a huge disappointment. There’s two reasons for this. One, because it’s computer generated, the ghosts don’t really fit into their environment meaning you are taken out of the film. Maybe the production design was a bit too good. Secondly, computer images aren’t scary. Seeing this crimson skeleton crawl after Edith should be terrifying, but the fact we know it’s all in a computer and not actually there means it fails to even get the heart racing.
It’s very difficult to see how a visionary director like Guillermo del Toro can deliver a work so unfocused as Crimson Peak. Films like these usually come out of a studio hive mind as they aim to appeal to as many demographics as possible, not from a director who has such a keen eye to detail. There are things to enjoy like the design of it all and the acting is also pretty good, but by not committing, it fails to deliver any swoons or scares.