“Crimson Peak” a story of sadism and tragedy


Just in time for the ghostliest day of the year, acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro gives moviegoers a sadistic, haunted treat.

It’s not his first time writing and directing hair-standing flicks— “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Mimic,” and the TV series “The Strain” are among his other tricks. His action movies include “Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy 2.”

His newest— “Crimson Peak,” combines ghost story with fairytale romance.

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author (ghost stories of course) who idolizes Mary Shelley and her death as a widow. Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Huddle) is the handsome and mysterious traveler who changes Edith’s mind about love.

After suffering tragedy in New York, Edith follows her beloved Thomas and her sister-in-law Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to their home in the solitary English hills. Edith’s ghost-sight and detective like curiosity are the perfect combination for unlocking the secrets held at Allerdale Hall, aka Crimson Peak.

Underneath the isolated estate is valuable crimson clay. It oozes through the sinking floorboards and makes its way into the water pipes. Leaves and snow fall through the old, cavernous ceiling. Looking up is seeing through a monster that’s gobbled you whole, its mouth agape.

Needless to say, people put up with a lot for love. The home’s eerie beauty matches that of the Sharpe siblings. The love between Thomas and Edith deepens like a grave. Her nighttime stupors have her witness grotesque and mutilated ghosts.

The variety of spectral manifestations drip like black tar, hang heavy with red skeletal remains, and shimmer translucent. They are some of the most visually striking ghosts I’ve seen.

It’s no surprise— the entire set is immaculate, from the Victorian gowns and suits, to the beautiful, indistinct paintings that cover the walls of Buffalo and Allerdale. Every insect, cobweb, rocking chair, stair and latticework is in its place.

Equally, cinematographer Dan Lausten tells much of the story. His lens points to dark corners and facial expressions, through Edith’s long, golden hair to the stares of dark-eyed Lucille. The camera moves quickly from Edith to monstrous, murderous pursuer, along her nightgown, running feet, ghostly claw, slamming door, then doorknob rattling.

The anxious breath, pattering steps and otherworldly wails are the score I remember most. However, carefully out-of-the-way music by Fernando Velázquez does add a Buffalo bustle and numerous haunted jolts when needed.

With such carefully designed sights and sounds, I vote that Alledale Hall is a hellish maze worth visiting on the big screen. If this isn’t enough, “Crimson Peak” does thicken.

As Buffalo friend Dr. Alan McMichael worries about Edith, Jessica Chastain brings to life one of the most impassioned, sadistic sisters a story could have. Her facial expressions are iron and beautiful except for when she’s possessed by love and rage. When she momentarily cracks, her face twists to reveal a soul as tormented as any ghost’s. Metaphorically, Lady Lucille isn’t contained to her body. I kept looking over Edith’s shoulder at every scene.

Chastain’s performance isn’t the only worth mentioning. Tom Huddle fights his own inner demons, and when his mask comes off its clear “Crimson Peak” is a tale of tragedy. The dialogue between brother and sister, husband and wife, physician and detective is all written well. It keeps enough clichés to remain storybook-like, and enough originality to make the film an above-average horror flick.

However, do be warned, this movie opens with a literal storybook. It follows an easy-to-call plot, contains a couple very violent, gruesome deaths, and must be put in the context of a genre that isn’t for everyone. Furthermore, “Peak” does not reach the level of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro’s still-reigning masterpiece.