Friday, October 23, 2015

Horror Season: Crimson Peak

Guillermo Del Toro's 2015 film Crimson Peak is an utterly gorgeous love letter to horror film history.  But it's just not very scary.  I don't think that makes it a bad movie, but you need to know what you're getting into.

Crimson Peak is about a young American woman in the early 1900s named Edith Cushing who dreams of becoming an author.  Her father is some sort of local business magnate.  She's seduced by an Englishman named Sir Thomas Sharpe who was trying to get her father to fund his clay mining machine.  When they marry, she moves into his decaying family manor in England with his sister Lucille.  Once there, she begins seeing ghosts.

The movie is absolutely dripping in gothic style and is about the most colorful horror movie I've seen all year.  Even more than Woman in Black, this makes me think of Hammer classics.  Especially with the absurdly saturated reds and greens.  The melodramatic emoting and slightly over-the-top violence is also highly evocative of Hammer's style.  Even the presentation of the various ghosts has much more in common with the "Look at this.  It is awesome, and shocking!" school than more contemporary that go creepy, disturbing, or startling.

The cover itself looks like the ghost effects used in William Castle's 1960 13 Ghosts, and many of the ghosts are a garish red, as if it needed any more connection to the class color-filtering effect.  The look of the actual ghosts themselves in this movie also look like a glorious combination between the classic analog film-composite ghosts of that era with Ring style movement realized in surprisingly meaty feeling CGI.  Probably due to performances by Doug Jones and Javier Botem.

As a fan of horror movies and horror history I love this stuff.  It's like, this is a movie for me, by someone like me with waaaaaay more budget than me to update the look and feel of beloved classics.  Also, it's a plain pretty good movie.  The acting is really good, though I would've preferred a bit more out of Mia Wasikowska.  I think I get what she was going for, and she hit it, but felt a bit flat for a lead to me.  The story is interesting with a fair mystery, and the romantic elements aren't overplayed.

But if you're looking for the movie to be actually scary or frightening, you'll be disappointed.  It does what it set out to do beautifully.  It was just marketed as a more traditional period horror movie, which probably set incorrect expectations.

And here's where I hit some spoiler territory:

The story plays some clever screenwriter tricks.  Looking back, I should've seen it spelled out in the first 5 minutes.  Not necessarily the nature of the Sharpe siblings' relationship, but the nature of the story.  This movie isn't a ghost story, and the mystery has absolutely nothing supernatural about it.  I spent the whole movie looking for dates on photos or some other giveaway that the Sharpes were really vampires or ghosts or something, but that's not the case.  They're simply brother and sister in an incestuous sexual relationship using a marry-then-murder scheme to finance Thomas' experiments in clay mining using the inheritances of young women.  That's it.  The ghosts just happen to be there.  The clever trick comes in the form of a novel young Edith is writing that people read as a ghost story, but she claims it's just a story with ghosts in it, and the ghosts are a metaphor for the past.  Which is exactly how the movie itself is.