Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Charlie Hunnam
Warning: Spoilers throughout
Don’t worry, it’s just clay. Red clay. Seeping up through the ground. They’re trying to mine it for some reason, this tall, pale, handsome man and his quiet, pale, sharp sister. Almost as quickly as Edith (Mia Wasikowska) arrives at their English estate, before she can grow accustomed to their decaying mansion and its many time-frozen rooms, winter comes. All of the sudden there is snow everywhere, outside and coming in through a hole in the ceiling and collecting by the main staircase. The red clay keeps seeping and mixing with it. There’s a morbid sight outside now, probably the best way imaginable to keep kids off your lawn.
Edith goes there out of love and desperation. She’s whisked away from America by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) almost immediately after her father’s murder. She gets upset when a doctor friend (Charlie Hunnam) tries to examine her dad’s caved in skull for signs of foul play. She’ll be thankful for his inquisitiveness later, but during her father’s funeral she all but ignores him, staring into the distance with her head pressed into Sharpe’s chest. His sister is already back in England, waiting for them.
Her mother tried to warn her. Her mother’s ghost, I mean. She floats into Edith’s room when she’s a little girl, a deformed, pitch black figure, and moans “Beware of Crimson Peak.” To be fair, it’s not a very good warning. By the time Edith realizes Crimson Peak is a nickname for her new home, she’s already hopelessly ensnared in the Sharpe siblings’ incestuous death waltz. The realization that her mother’s ghost was trying to help not haunt hits her hard, and Wasikowska conveys the blunt force trauma of that revelation almost entirely through her eyes.
Crimson Peak contains some of the most distinct and terrifying imagery I’ve seen in a movie all year, and yet the biggest impression director Guillermo del Toro left on me is his focus on the faces of his pallid, impeccably restrained cast. HIddleston is almost pure charm at first, but the torment gradually creeps in as his sister Lucille (Chastain) continues to control him. The muted evil in the way Chastain says “Drink your tea,” is among the most chilling moments in a movie where a saccharine ghost is found in a bathtub with a hatchet in its head. Like everything her character says, it seems like she’s holding something back, like she wants to fly into a blind rage.
When Lucille finally does explode in the final act, the climax is shocking even though it’s clear that del Toro had been working toward it all along. He is a master of conjuring mood from his elaborate settings, building tension through atmosphere rather than just plot. Crimson Peak only really falls short in its opening scenes in America, before Edith travels to the doomed English haunt.
The movie’s decaying manor is an incredible creation, an obvious entry in the haunted house hall of fame. Large black moths collect on the walls, the elevator moves on its own, the basement contains locked vats that shake as if someone is trapped underneath. This is a a place where ghosts, however horrifying they may seem, are just like Edith’s mother. They bleed through the floor and the walls because they’re trying to warn her or point her toward the truth.
As she slowly pieces together her husband and sister-in-law’s demented family history and their plan to swipe her inheritance, the house, despite its crumbling infrastructure and giant gaps in its ceiling, becomes more and more like a prison. The walls move and creek like a living creature, red clay comes up through the floorboards and shakes the clogged pipes when she tries to turn on water for a bath. This house is a beating heart of evil.