Guillermo Del Toro, known for masterpieces such as cult classics Pans Labyrinth and The Devils Backbone all the way through to box office CGI high rollers like Hell Boy and Pacific Rim has had Crimson Peak in the works since 2006, and although it has taken a monumental amount of effort, a big studio investment, a change of casting and required a full scale build for ‘Allerdale Hall’ he is now, in 2015, able to unleash his tragically beautiful and utterly terrifying gothic romance upon cinema goers (and let me tell you, it was worth the wait).
Crimson Peak - an original story written by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins - tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) a young, intelligent American woman who has a wild and curious imagination encouraged by events she witnessed as a child and retains, although in her early 20s a child-like innocence. Edith aspires to literary accomplishments more than she does to marriage and being a 'Lady who lunches', but her visions of becoming the next great published author are swiftly and meticulously pushed down the list of priorities when the tall, dark and extremely handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) a young, British inventor, strolls up to her desk (located within her father’s place of work) without warning…..or so she believes. He is not alone in America, as he has travelled from England with his mysteriously dark and far less entertaining sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) who is a fleeting character at first but once home, literally and metaphorically unleashes hell. The pair seemingly have a disturbingly nasty plan all laid out for poor Edith, who is courted in the blink of an eye, wooed into marrying Sir Thomas, and whisked off back to England under the impression that where she is headed will be somewhere wonderful…
You really do feel for her from the words “would you like some tea?”
As expected, her hopes and dreams of a happy new life with her husband are swiftly kicked to the proverbial snow covered curb, and we begin to see the full extent of Lady Lucille’s twisted mind and what caused her to be so fractured and cold. She is the Lady of the Allerdale Hall and is not giving that bunch of keys for anything or anyone… living or otherwise.
Whilst Sir Thomas is working on getting his great invention working and apparently never sleeping, Edith is left to fend for herself as things don’t just go bump in the night, oh no, they quite enjoy the day time too. Paired with Lady Lucille’s hauntingly beautiful piano playing, the bright white ice cold snow and the sense of desperate and intentional isolation between each floor of the house, the unfolding events make you wonder whether the increasingly fragile Edith is going to live through the next scene.
As Sir Thomas informs Edith on her first night “The house breathes” and it also oozes a red clay-like glaze which has begun to find its way through the walls and into the water pipes. This ingenious yet visually stunning element written into the story, in any other circumstance or film would have looked utterly ridiculous, but because this is what Sir Thomas’s invention is solely based around, it makes perfect sense for the Sharpe ancestral home (rotting carcass according to Del Toro) to have bleeding walls, blood red snow-covered land, and in turn earning itself the nickname Edith is more than familiar with and has feared all of her life.
The large scale sets are drenched in the gothic glamour of the 19th century, and the cinematography is utterly transportive. You are in the house with them; you feel like if you left your seat you’d find yourself somehow walking the halls of Allerdale trying to find Edith and end the horror. The costumes - designed by Kate Hawley (The Hobbit) are breathtakingly exquisite and are so beautifully crafted and delicious in their detail, they really deserve their own credits at the end of the film. The whole thing from start to finish is for all intents and purposes a gothic romance and a good old fashioned ghost story. That is the direction writer and director, Guillermo Del Toro has been sending the world since Legendary purchased the rights in 2007... AND IT DELIVERS.
It has all the romance, heartbreak, darkness, murder, love, twists, turns, lies, secrets and a few solid jumps one could ask for, all of which were entrusted to the glittering cast of A list actors who incontestably and quite literally have poured their own emotional depth, passion and despair into these tragic characters. One thing Del Toro is a perfectionist with, is ensuring that his audience has a human, although ironically and severely inhuman, aspect to relate to and care about. The passion and depth that has gone into making the film is something to be in awe of; it is beautiful and scary and does exactly what it says on the Crimson Peak tin. It has Stephen King’s approval and now it has ours.
Crimson Peak is now showing at FACT - click here to book tickets.