Crimson Peak, Netflix, - should you watch it?
Guillermo Del Toro director, starring Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain
This film is more Gothic than Gothic itself. In fact, last week, Gothic went to the same party as this film and left embarrassed, knowing there was just no point trying to compete. Gothic felt so bad about itself it had to start seeing a therapist... You get the point.
Crimson Peak revels in gorgeous billowing gowns, violent deaths, guttering candlesticks, constantly creaking floorboards and hinges, and doors flying open of their own volition to disgorge shrieky supernatural visitors. It makes the deliberate Gothic-parody elements in Austen's Northanger Abbey, for example, look like a dry and sober-sides documentary. One of those earnest, budget ones that can't afford actors and just have a historian going 'It was dramatic, honestly'.
Crimson Peak is going for the creepiness big style. When attempting to be frightening, it’s common film lore that the less shown the more effective the spookiness. As Stephen King puts it, we don't want to see too much, as too much nearly always includes 'the zipper running up the monster’s back'. That’s not a concept director Del Toro has grasped.
Regarding the ghosts, all I could say whenever they assaulted my eyes was: ‘What the hell is THAT?’ This isn’t a spoiler, since the first spooky visitor trundles along mere minutes in, and let me tell you, they do not gain in subtlety as things progress.
Clanking ghouls aside, the story started with enough poise for me to hope for something at least half meaningful.
The premise: a young aspiring writer and heiress (Mia Wasikowska) meets an attractive stranger (Tom Hiddleston) who’s seeking investment from her father’s business. A whirlwind romance between them ensues and, amid calamitous events, she gets whisked away to his family pile. But, are he and his enigmatic sister all they seem? (No, of course not!)
The courtship is the best bit of the film, with Tom Hiddleston as classy and un-hateable as ever. There’s some excellent dancing, great music and nice social tension/jealousies under the surface.
Many of the shots look like a pre-Raphaelite painting, all muted yet rich colours, curling locks of golden hair everywhere, tapestries and decadent gowns, so it is undisputably a visual feast.
Sadly though, Crimson Peak cannot sustain its initial poise, losing its cool at around the same moment our heroine steps into the most absurd caricature of a haunted house imaginable: red clay oozing up from under the floorboards like blood… bathwater running red, due to the clay don’t you know… Seriously? This monstrous Gothic mansion (that's subsiding, like Venice, and has a bloody great hole in its roof) is actually splendid in its sheer overdone insanity.
It’s just a shame about the plot that accompanies it: similar overdone insanity, far less splendidness.
Despite descending into melodrama, it nevertheless did keep me hooked and guessing until near the end, asking that primal age old question that holds all audiences: ‘How on earth are they going to get out of this one?!’
Largely, the compelling aspect stems from the fact the human characters are far more frightening than their overacting ghostly counterparts could hope to be.
Verdict: Crimson Peak is like fast food, very good at the time and afterwards you sort of wish you hadn’t. Seemed at first to promise more than the cheap thrills it ultimately can’t quite transcend.
Should you? If you’re not craving subtlety, don’t mind your ghouls laughable and feel like seeing some excellent (and good-looking) actors struggle to the grim death to overcome a silly plot.
In short, yes, but only if you really have nothing more urgent to be doing.