Haunted houses are one of Halloween’s biggest attractions. Creepy creatures hide around each corner waiting to jump–scare the unsuspecting visitor half out of their shoes. When all is said and done, everyone laughs at the diversion and goes home happy. A few of us even hide under the blankets just in case there really is something in the dark waiting to pay us a visit. In the end, we look back on the experience as a tribute to the holiday and go on with our lives until next year when we return to do it all again.
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering, Crimson Peak, provides the traditional haunted house but also a love a trio of odd love stories. The result is a two–hour thriller that provides the expected scares from unexpected directions. In this movie, the ghosts are scary, but the people inside the house with their dark secrets are far more terrifying. The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver, and Burn Gorman.
Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) begins our narration by explaining that ghosts are real. Her mother died when she was a little girl, but revists when Edith is older. The blackened ghost warns her daughter to “Beware of Crimson Peak” before departing. Fourteen years later, Edith is working on a ghost story to provide her publisher, who advisers her to stick to romance novels. Edith is also outside of the social circle of Mrs. McMichael and her daughter, Eunice. Dr. Alan McMichael (Hunnam) is a childhood friend who is clearly taken with her but Edith doesn’t notice.
She’s still working on her novel when she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), a nobleman seeking investment capital from her father, Carter Cushing (Beaver), for his clay–mining device. Thomas likes Edith’s novel at first glance, much as Carter dislikes Thomas from the moment they meet. Thomas pitches his idea to the investors, only for Carter to dismiss him for not being a “self–made man”. He notes that Thomas has taken his idea to investors in Milan, London, and other cities before coming to Buffalo. Thomas takes the rejection in stride, asking only for a chance to prove himself. Edith, spying on the meeting, becomes further intrigued by Thomas and spends more time with him. The ghost returns again when she is alone, once again warning her to “Beware Crimson Peak”.
Thomas introduces Edith to his sister, Lady Lucille (Chastain), an accomplished piano player. He shares a dance with Edith while Lucille notes their growing closeness. Still suspicious of the Sharpe siblings, Carter hires the investigator Holly (Gorman) to find dirt on the pair. Carter bribes the Sharpes to leave Buffalo immediately, but not before making Thomas go out of his way to break Edith’s heart by insulting her writing and calling her too immature to write the stories she enjoys. Thomas agrees, but changes his mind when Edith finds him while Carter is found dead in the men’s room of the local health club that same day.
This begins a whirlwind courtship culminating in Edith marrying Thomas and moving into Allerdale Hall in England. The manor is sprawling but barely habitable, but Edith loves her new husband and makes the most of her new home despite Lucille’s still–tepid demeanor. Soon, she grows ill and begins seeing ghosts and other horrid apparitions throughout the house. Her attempts to tell Thomas and Lucille are met with derision, though Thomas advises her that she’ll soon see the clay leaks into the snow during the winter, leading the locals to call the home “Crimson Peak”. Meanwhile, Alan learns that Carter died shortly after paying off the Sharpes, leading to a race against time to save Edith from her new husband and his mysterious sister.
Edith can see ghosts. I’m glad this was stated up front rather than having minutes devoted to some convoluted backstory to justify it. The supernatural elements aren’t forced into the story and there aren’t any lame “jump scares” that are just there to shock the audience. The amount of gore, while not excessive, was handled well. Finally, I enjoyed that the ghosts didn’t kill anyone. The evil and murder in this movie is perpetrated by the characters, a welcome change from most movies containing ghosts. The ghosts simply creep or slither along the ground and terrify Edith, but they don’t physically harm anyone. The people around Edith think she’s crazy but the audience knows she isn’t.
Emily Wasikowska’s Edith is both a woman of her time and ahead of it. She loves her father, yet thinks for herself. She doesn’t associate with the gossiping ladies of her social circle and pursues her passion for writing. She also believes the best about Thomas despite everyone’s dismissal of him as a man who’s never worked for anything in his life.
Tom Hiddleston imbues Sir Thomas Sharpe with a charm that even his enemies can’t ignore. Whether it was courting Edith, reassuring Lucille of his love, or playing the rival to Dr. McMichael for Edith’s affections, Sharpe is a man playing several roles at once. It’s not until the end of the story that we learn which role is really him, but Hiddleston sells his internal conflict in every scene he’s in.
Charlie Hunnam’s Alan McMichael was hard to separate from his last well–known role as Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller. Hunnam played his part well, but I kept expecting to hear motorcycles pull up at several points in the movie, which broke the immersion for me. He gives Alan a genuine affection and concern for Edith, leading him to cross the ocean to save her from her new “family”.
Jessica Chastain’s Lucille begins as cold and proper, but soon evolves into the most dangerous person in every scene she’s in. The true battle comes down the two women in Thomas Sharpe’s life, while the men shift to the background. Lucille hides a quiet menace in every scene she’s in and she even dominates Thomas, using family loyalty to bend him to her will. She sees Edith as the enemy from the outset and refuses to let her take away the only person she truly loves: Thomas.
The Good: Excellent visuals. Good characters. Coherent story.
The Bad: Slow development. That house. Charlie Hunnam’s accent
The Verdict: Go see this one. A good way to spend a couple of hours.