Crimson Peak, film review: Extravagant hokum built on shaky foundations

Amid the piano-playing and waltzing, Del Toro isn’t afraid to include moments of extreme violence

Geoffrey Macnab
Thursday 15 October 2015 16:06
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Crimson Peak - Trailer

This delirious gothic horror teeters on the brink of high camp. The only surprise is that Morticia Addams doesn’t put in an appearance. In a role not far removed from her Jane Eyre, Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, a prim 19th-century would-be authoress whose father is a prominent American businessman. Tom Hiddleston is Thomas Sharpe, a sybaritic English baronet and inventor come to the US with his diva of a sister (Jessica Chastain) to look for financing for his business schemes – and maybe pick up a wife.

The early scenes, dealing with class and snobbery, have some of the flavour of Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence – but with ghosts and murder thrown in. The swirling camerawork is tremendous, the production design extravagant. Amid the piano-playing and waltzing, Del Toro isn’t afraid to include moments of extreme violence. In the second half, the action switches to the Sharpes’ huge but decaying English mansion house.

The problem here is that the film-makers throw too many elements into the mix. Grand Guignol bloodletting is combined with characters and ideas which often seem to have been borrowed from Rebecca. Rural England appears as forbidding as Transylvania in the dead of winter. Hiddleston’s Sharpe is hard to fathom – a romantic hero with a creepy underside. In its more overwrought moments, the film collapses into absurdity. At least Chastain enjoys herself in a wonderfully flamboyant performance as Thomas’s sister, part Mrs Danvers and part bride of Frankenstein.

​Guillermo Del Toro, 119 mins Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain

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