‘It was all a bit Bluebeard’ I said after seeing Crimson Peak. ‘Who?’ said my boyfriend. Apparently Bluebeard hasn’t passed into everyone’s consciousness, maybe cos it’s not a fairytale Disney could do. At least I hope not… they’d mess it right up (see Into the Woods)… anyway you know Bluebeard right? If not – click here – I like the German version best don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Good right? Well, Crimson Peak wasn’t really like that because of course it had been Guillermo del Toro’d so Bluebeard has a sister who is MUCH scarier than Bluebeard, the new wife can see ghosts and there’s no brothers coming to rescue you, only Charlie Hunnam doing another appalling American accent and being the human equivalent of paint drying. Whatever the character I just find my eyes sliding to the right, like he’s wearing a Tardis key (low level perception filter) and I’m not really supposed to look directly at him. Charlie doesn’t seem to annoy most people though, but apparently Mia Wasikowska does. A lot of people when I said ‘oooh CRIMSON PEAK’ went ‘meh, not sure about Mia W’ and ‘Mia Whatsherface – with her annoying face’. I think she’s lovely, not super exciting or anything but just quietly becomes the character and you believe her – she was the best thing in Burton’s Alice for sure. As Edith she is given a similar role, her job is to navigate the audience through the creepy world she tumbles into. Only this time it’s Tom Hiddleston (with full on pale-dark-wig Loki colouring) as Mr Sharpe to lure you down the rabbit hole. I liked that Edith just went full scale obsessive crush on the mysterious Mr Sharpe when he arrives, her opening introduction of independent aspiring writer, with opinions of her own (shock horror!) is shoved to one side as she googles sexy Sharpe, victorian style, by looking up his family seat in a big history book.
The set for Allerdale Hall is just exquisite. Built in it’s entirety on the lot, it’s a Gothic nightmare that you REALLY want to go and play in. The big, bold colours and lines of Edith’s American period dresses are dwarfed by the huge Gothic wood balcony, the creepy wrought iron lift (Don’t ever go below this level) and the gigantic fireplaces that breathe. And Del Toro wrings out every last ounce of pleasing terror he can; a dream-like waltz sequence, blood red clay oozing and penetrating, a grand piano, enormous bathtub, handle to fire up electric light and Edith roaming the night halls with her full length white gown, candle-stick and flowing golden hair. I adored the use of weather and natural colour – there was a scene before Mr Sharpe proposes where Edith is dressed in sumptuous autumnal colours bathed in the late summer sun while Mr Sharpe and his sister (oh I am getting to her) linger in shadow dressed all in black. This is swiftly followed by the staple of all gothic and film noir, a funeral in the pouring rain with black umbrellas filling every corner of the screen. When we arrive at Allerdale Hall, Del Toro employs beautiful shots of leaves and later snow tumbling softly through the holes in the roof of the house and frames his violent and tense finale with a raging snow storm – so no help can get through until morning – classic!
And so we come to Jessica Chastain. She plays Lucille beautifully – totally unnerving from the off, but only drip feeding the audience a little more of the crazy each time she appears, so we wait a long time before we realise just how horrific she is. The scene where she throws the breakfast across the table was the scariest for me – the outburst and then the clawing back of control. In the hands of another actor this part could easily have been over the top but Chastain is so accomplished she pitches it right every time. Her power over her brother was softly played but totally convincing. I read that Benedict Cumberbatch was originally to play Thomas Sharpe – whether by design or accident, I thought Hiddleston the better choice. Both actors can play evil and scheming, with a dark handsomeness that makes them utterly desirable, but Sharpe’s desire to escape the house and the treadmill of death his sister has him on, his struggle as his feelings for Edith grow and his ultimate attempt at redemption, this was where Hiddleston really excelled. We knew he was bad news and plotting nefarious deeds from the outset, but we still felt sorry for him when Edith’s dear Papa told him off for having soft hands, didn’t we?
Of course this is Del Toro, so we have some horrifically realistic gooey ghosts, a jerky and terrifying black smokey monster and some satisfyingly graphic violence (cheek stab and slow removal of blade – yay!). The beauty of Del Toro is his twists on convention, the heroine isn’t naive or oblivious, she can see ghosts, one of the scariest ghosts in the place is her own mother and despite her initial terror of the house, she quickly realises she must fear the living not the dead. Crimson Peak is a sumptuous, slow-building proper Gothic horror but it is the fully realised characters (well except Charlie Hunnam) and the attention to detail that really elevates it. I look forward to seeing it again on my own with all the lights out. Eeek!
Final thought: The only bit I didn’t get was why Mr Sharpe appears as some kind of weird Harry Potter resurrection stone / Star Wars force ghost when all the other ghosts were, well, oozy or at least deformed? Thoughts? Was it Edith’s projection that made the others appear as they did?