Sunday, March 27, 2016

In short: Crimson Peak (2015)

Fair warning: this isn’t a horror film but a gothic romance with ghosts so if you can’t cope with films not precisely being horror films please do not watch Crimson Peak and then complain about it not being a horror film or it not containing enough jump scares.

Yes, I’ve seen some pretty damn irritating reviews of this one, how’d you know, imaginary reader?

Anyway, I can absolutely understand why someone might not like house favourite Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance: it’s highly artificial, its melodrama is turned up to eleven, and it belongs to a sub-genre that generally has a horrible reputation at least among horror fans – if a viewer dislikes Gothic romance on general principle, she certainly won’t be happy with Crimson Peak. I, on the other hand, eat that sort of thing up, at least when it is done as well as here, shot and designed with a sumptuous eye for the gothic detail, the metaphoric value of colours, buildings and ghosts, and a clear idea of the way that metaphoric value and the reality these elements need to take on in a film (or a novel, of course) intersect and speak to one another.

Not surprisingly, the film’s beautiful to look at, drenched in colour in the spirit of Hammer, Bava and Argento (who didn’t do gothic romance, of course, but who built what most of us think of as “gothic” in cinema nonetheless), and blessed with set design that’d be worth the price of admission alone. Lead actors Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston find just the right tone too (which I can’t imagine to have been particularly easy), all three reaching the sweet spot between high melodrama, artificiality and conscious acting without ever falling in the trap of becoming caricatures.

This being a del Toro joint, there’s also a subtle play with certain gothic romance tropes turning some generic elements around a little, and poking mild fun at others without getting out the club of ironic distance. For distance is what the film – del Toro’s films as a whole, I’d argue – has no interest in. This is cinema seen as a sensual thing, luxuriating in artificiality until it feels so real it hurts, making every emotion, every place so huge it becomes more real than reality. In a sense, that’s of course a classic Hollywood approach, and while I certainly don’t want every movie I watch to be this way, when it is done as well as it is in Crimson Peak I’m happy with the approach.

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