...Well, one out of two ain't bad.
Alas, the trailer and posters are as scary as Crimson Peak gets. Fortunately, the lack of scares is balanced out by the film's incredible color palette, stunning set design, excellent cinematography, tight pacing, and the fine performances by the three leads.
The first act of the film provides a likable protagonist and hints at the sinister events to come. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring young writer encouraged by her successful father (Jim Beaver), meets the Sharpes, Thomas (Hiddles) and Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Thomas has come to the US seeking funds for his invention, designed to mine the clay under his property in the UK. Rejected by a suspicious Mr. Cushing, Thomas sets his sights on Edith, despite his sister's clear disapproval. Hearts open, love blossoms, skulls are bashed in, and it's off across the pond to the dismal Crimson Peak!
The second act offers a visual feast to go along with the thematic content. Dressed in bright colors, Edith often stands out against the bleak countryside, a parallel to the contrast between her positive outlook and the grimness of the inhabitants of the decrepit mansion. At night, the spectres that haunt the place are a bright blood red, the same color as the clay that seeps up from the ground -- Thomas' redemption and Lucille's bane. As Edith's experiences in her new home become progressively more disturbing, the colors go into deepest blacks and grays, making her white nightgown and blond curls more vivid.
The snow that comes in for the third act enhances the gorgeous horror on screen while obligingly serving as a barrier against our heroine's escape and/or rescue. What will Edith's final fate be at Crimson Peak?
Let's talk about the performances. With this and The Martian, Chastain has now starred in two of the most beautiful movies of 2015. Her portrayal of Lucille, the "more collected" sibling, as Edith's father observes, is effective in that she comes across as equal parts victim and villain. There's one memorable scene where she serves Edith porridge, and she's scraping the spoon against the bowl, deliberately creating a screeching, unpleasant sound for her "patient." Lucille also has all the best subtext lines in the film, delivered with genteel menace.
Meanwhile, Wasikowska's Edith is perfect: young but perceptive, trusting yet aware, and consistently confident in her own judgment and abilities. These qualities draw Thomas, who wastes no time giving her all the eye-sex. I mean:
Whoooo! All the acting awards to this man! Based solely on his looks!
My one teeny tiny "ha-ha" moment was when Edith and Thomas are dancing, and Lucille is playing the piano -- I was watching Chastain's hands, and, well, they didn't match with the notes I was hearing. That is all. I am a dork.
So all in all, a great "horror" film where the ghosts are metaphors (per Edith), but also actually hanging out because they cannot be laid to rest. (This did not stop my friend Crispy from burrowing into her seat. At one point, I thought she was throwing up during a very Guillermo knife-to-the-face scene.)
It's got mystery, love, murder, fundraising, a dab of steampunk, and lots of tension -- of the romance and also the murder-murder-kill-kill kind.
TL;DR: Great film, not scary at all, recommended!
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