Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak (Kerry Hayes/Universal Pictures)
In Crimson Peak, Mia Wasikowska stars as American heiress Edith Cushing, an aspiring author who, in the film’s funniest line of dialogue, is described as “our very own Jane Austen,” to which she replies, “I’d prefer to be Mary Shelley.” While typing up one of her stories at her wealthy industrialist father’s office, Edith meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet more in name than money and power. Edith falls in quickly with him, and he and his sister Lucille (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) squeeze their way into her social circle.
After their brief courtship, Thomas proposes to Edith and whisks her away to his ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, where she must contend with nightly visits from mournful ghosts as well as Lucille’s thinly veiled hatred. Chastain’s steely, villainous performance is a nice change of pace for the actress. Her slow-boil rage in the porridge scene is one of the scariest monologues I’ve heard recently.
As per usual for a Guillermo del Toro film, the production design and art direction are the real stars of Crimson Peak. The production budget is rumored to have been $50 million, but it looks like it cost more. You can see where the money was spent in every scene. The attention to detail is consistently impressive. You feel as if you’ve been transported to the Victorian age. Not only will Crimson Peak be in the running for awards for its production design, it could be in the running for its costumes as well.
It would be selling the film short to just call it a ghost story. Del Toro calls Crimson Peak a gothic romance, which is what I was thinking as I watched it. The film reminds me of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula to see another lush production that’s a similar bait and switch, in a good way. Dracula might be billed as a horror film, but it’s really a gothic romance with impressive art direction and costume design. There’s even a scene of Wasikowska and Hiddleston dancing while surrounded by candles reminiscent of the scene of Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder dancing amidst a circle of candles.
While I wouldn’t call Crimson Peak a horror movie per se, though it does have its share of gore and scares, it’s more a gorgeous, moody thriller. You will probably guess where the plot is heading, but it’s a beautiful ride. Sometimes in movies, just like in life, the journey is part of the fun.
Now in theaters
Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).