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Film review: Crimson Peak is a gorgeous looking, flamboyant horror flick

Strong performances and cinematography lift Guillermo del Toro's scary story

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 October, 2015, 12:05am

Guillermo del Toro’s career is largely split between Hollywood blockbusters like Pacific Rim and his more independent (and interesting) works – films like The Devil’s Backbone and the Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth. With Crimson Peak, he makes a credible attempt to merge the two with this glossy, high-budget ghost story that yearns for the visual splendour and poetic moments of his non-studio work.

Set in the late 19th century, it opens as Mia Wasikowska’s bloodied and scarred Edith Cushing intones: “Ghosts are real. That much I know.” The daughter of a wealthy construction magnate, Edith is soon swooning for Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a refined Englishman who has arrived in New York with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to seek funding from Edith’s father for an engineering project.

When this rather brusque patriarch turns up dead, it’s clear Sharpe and his sister are scheming something, although del Toro holds back on the revelations until Edith marries her beloved and retires to their family pile in Britain, a crumbling gothic mansion haunted by blood-soaked spirits. Who these ghosts are forms part of del Toro’s intricate – and increasingly silly – plot that suggests blood really is thicker than water.

For all its feeling of a throwaway penny dreadful, Crimson Peak looks gorgeous; with help from Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen, nobody does flamboyant, operatic gore quite like del Toro. Still, it’s the film’s smaller moments that set the mind racing. One scene, with ants chewing through the eyes of a struggling butterfly, leaves a particularly strong impression.

The performances are solid – even if Chastain’s wild countenance, demonic piano playing and raven hair rather gives away her role in proceedings from the very beginning. As this shows, Crimson Peak is rarely subtle. More startling than a bloodstained wedding dress, it’s a good fireside spook story, if nothing more.

Crimson Peak opens on October 15