CRIMSON PEAK, US, 2015. Starring Mia Waskowski, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam Jim Beaver, Burn Gorman, Leslie Hope, Doug Jones, Jonathan Hyde. Directed by Gulliermo Del Toro.119 minutes. Rated MA (Strong bloody violence).
Once upon a time, the word ‘Gothic’referred to large and beautiful European cathedrals. Later centuries, especially with the 19th century fascination with mediaeval architecture in English-speaking countries, the word had overtones of larger than life melodrama, mysterious buildings, suspicious sinister characters, touches of the supernatural, images of blood and death.
It is safe to say that Crimson Peak is contemporary Gothic movie-making. It is the creation of Mexican, Guillermo del Toro, who has made films based on such graphic novels as Hellboy and Pacific Rim its gigantic undersea monsters rampaging through the world. But he also made striking films in Spain, The Devil’s Backbone set during the Spanish Civil War and the blend of grim fairytale and World War to realism, Pan’s Labyrinth.
The colour photography for this film is very striking indeed as are the sets, costumes and decor, opening in the American city of Buffalo in the 19th century and then moving to Cumberland in snowbound and frozen northern England. The film is also full of premonitions, ghosts, dastardly doings and revenge. This Gothic atmosphere is certainly reinforced in the episodes in Cumberland, in Allendale Hall, an enormous mansion out in bleak fields, its huge facade looking like no other building – except, perhaps, the front of St Pancras Station in London. As for the interiors, with gaps in the roof, snow falls within the building which is a mixture of ancient warehouse, whirring machinery, old-fashioned living quarters and a sinister basement.
The characters also have a Gothic touches. At the centre is a young woman, Edith, who lost her mother and has ghostly premonitions. She is played by Mia Wasikowska – who in recent years also played Jane Eyre. Actually, Allendale Hall is a place where Mr Rochester might have felt at home, with ample wings and rooms to conceal his mad wife. Then there are a British brother and sister who come to Buffalo promoting a machine for the extraction of a particularly enriched soil on their property. The brother, Thomas, played by the versatile British actor, Tom Hiddleston, seems to fall in love with Edith, and she him. We are all more wary of the sister, Lucille. This reviewer did not check who was playing Lucille before the preview of the film and could not place the familiar looking face, only to find it was American Jessica Chastain – who really steals the film with her most powerful performance.
While things may have been hard in Buffalo, matters are a far more disturbing in Cumberland, ghosts, mysterious past marriages, money and disappearing spouses, the strange machine, the blood- soaked soil, and more than a little vengeful blood and gore.
For those whose imagination tends to the Gothic, Crimson Peak can be recommended. For those of a more simple and stable imagination, it might be too much.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Universal. Released October 21st