Plot: What’s it about?
When it comes to the films of Guillermo Del Toro, I’d say I’m a passing fan. That’s not to say that I don’t admire his films, I think he’s got a great eye for design and detail, it’s just that the movies he’s made aren’t really up my alley. Well, ok, I will admit that Pacific Rim is a guilty pleasure. Who doesn’t like robots battling 300 feet monsters from outer space. I mean come on! And, admittedly, I do like the Hellboy films too. Ok, so maybe I’m more of a fan than I originally thought. Still, when it comes to gothic horror films, the genre is quite limited. I’m actually not even sure what constitutes a gothic horror film. But when I saw the cast and director it certainly begged to be seen. Tom Hiddleston, best-known for his performance as Loki in Thor and The Avengers, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska who’s run the gamut doing every English period piece you can imagine (Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary and Stoker to name a few). Haunted houses. Crimson ghosts. This will either be great or a waste of time. Let’s see which.
Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer, but her works are dismissed due to her sex. The daughter of a wealthy businessman (Jim Beaver), she’s expected to embrace society and eventually marry well. Clearly she’s not one for convention. As fate would have it, a dashing man by the name of Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) comes into town looking for finances for his invention. Together with his sister (Jessica Chastain), the two make an indelible impression, though Thomas is denied his funding. After an “unfortunate accident”, Edith heads to the outskirts of London to be with Thomas and Lucille (Chastain), her family fortune being transferred to them. While there, she experiences visions, gets ill and tries to comprehend a house that seemingly oozes red clay out of the floor and walls. Believing more nefarious affairs are in order, Edith starts to figure out that the Sharpes might not be what they claim to be. Can she escape while she’s still able or will is her fate sealed?
I told myself that I’d stop writing synopsis like that and ending with a question as to what would happen. Still, I felt that it was appropriate in this case. I’d referenced the “gothic horror” genre in the introductory paragraph and I suppose that if one movie I’ve seen embodies it, it’s got to be this one. I’m reminded of a movie I saw a few years back called Beautiful Creatures, though I’m not sure if that qualifies. Still, after watching this film and having a few days to reflect on it, I will say that it is one that stays with you. So many films are erased from my memory the second the credits roll, but there was something about this one. I really can’t put my finger on it. Is it Guillermo Del Toro’s best? I think not. But it’s nice to see Jessica Chastain play the antagonist (I don’t think I’m giving anything away with that statement, anyone can figure it out after about 5 minutes of her on screen) and Hiddleston do what he does best – the charming devil who may or may not be up to no good. Ultimately it’s up to the viewer, but this is an interesting film to be sure.
Video: How’s it look?
Visually-speaking, there’s a lot going on in this film. Granted, we’ve got the typical “Guillermo Del Toro’ish” standby’s (butterflies abound), but the general look and feel is very gothic. That’s what we’d expect of a gothic film. Flesh tones are washed out, then Chastain, Hiddleston and Wasikowska are pretty pale-skinned to begin with. The ghosts have a very unique look to them as well, the best way I can describe them is that they are akin to giant twizzlers. Yes, I realize that’s an odd way to describe a ghost, but the texture on them really reminded me of one of my favorite candies. Some scenes seemed dipped in yellow for a more golden hue, but when they get across the pond, things become a bit more placid. Needless to say that the 2.40:1 AVC HD encoded image is everyone we’d expect it to be and does not disappoint.
Audio: How’s it sound?
There’s a moment in this movie that made me jump out of my seat. Ok, I was actually halfway up anyway, but I really love how the sound was used in this film. It’s subtle, yet embraces the viewer and draws them into the film. Certainly the DTS HD Master Audio track has a few surprises here and there, and another scene that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Vocals are rich and crisp, we get to hear all sorts of British and American accents that mesh well together. Surrounds are used with great effect, vocals surge out of the center channel and the LFE even have a few moments to shine. It’s a very interesting mix.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Deleted Scenes
- The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak: Crimson Peak offers a stylized turn of the century with carefully crafted visuals that provide the perfect backdrop for Del Toro’s brand of psychological horror. Follow the phases of production to discover a booming America and a dark and removed England portrayed with a multi-layered sophistication unlike any seen in recent cinema.
- Beware Of Crimson Peak: Tom Hiddleston (Sir Thomas Sharpe) offers a walking tour of the many secret spaces in Allerdale Hall.
- Audio Commentary – Guillermo Del Toro gives a very engaging and technical commentary track that’s full of information about the shoot, the casting and the costume/production design. Certainly this is a visually-aggressive film that’s part of the allure and Del Toro gives us yet another insightful commentary.
- I Remember Crimson Peak: Essentially a series of interviews with the main players in the film: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska.
- A Living Thing: An army of artisans was amassed to construct the Sharpe mansion on North America’s largest soundstage. Witness first-hand and in great detail the construction of Del Toro’s most elaborate set to date.
- A Primer on Gothic Romance: Employing his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for the genre, Guillermo del Toro traces the lineage of Gothic Romance in cinema. Using Crimson Peak as the basis, Del Toro outlines the history of cinematic terror and illuminates the differences between traditional scares and elevated horror.
- Crimson Phantoms: Del Toro’s approach to make-up effects is discussed by award-winning effects house DDT. In this piece, they offer an exclusive look inside their workshop, where they deconstruct the creation of the film’s most disturbing prosthetic effects. The discussion delves into the mythology of these elegant creatures and how Del Toro’s belief in the supernatural informed the design and narrative of the ghosts.
- Hand Tailored Gothic: Costume designer Kate Hawley unravels her collaboration with Del Toro and reveals the symbolism constantly at play in the wardrobe’s design.
The Bottom Line
While not Guillermo Del Toro’s worst, it’s not his best either. There’s something that stays with you after the credits roll with this one and I cannot really put my finger on it. The Blu-ray both looks and sounds amazing with a nice selection of extras that’s sure to please any fan. I’d recommend a rental fist, but die hard fans might want to take the plunge.