Gilded Age ingénue, Edith Cushing (Alice in Wonderland‘s Mia Wasikowska), endeavours to execute literary tales of gothic grandeur. After a ghastly greeting by her mother’s apparition, she delivers an ominous omen. With heartstrings torn between the love for her childhood confidant, Dr. Alan McMichael (Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam), and the tempestuous titillations of the darkly dashing mystery man, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Loki a.k.a. Tom Hiddleston), Edith enlists her inner adventuress and adjourns to England. It is there, that she will again encounter the echoes of her past, alongside the unforeseen agony asylumed within the carnal prison they call, Crimson Peak…
The Golgothan genius of Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) goes American Gilded Age with a bit of the ole Victorian English spit polish, drizzled right down the horror vacui chute of no return in his latest cinematic installment of mystery and mayhem. Crimson Peak (2015) drives us deeply into an illuminated urbanity set within the industrialized East Coast of a late 19th Century United States, like a silver stake searching for Nosferatu’s pulsating black heart.
Dan Lauststen’s (Silent Hill, Brotherhood of the Wolf) mastery of the camera lens, delivers del Toro’s gothically-mad vision with steampunkian-precision– despite the fact that the High Definition Video medium often does a disservice to this dastardly tale, due to the crisply registered surface of its digital nature. My eyes were longing for a more traditional, filmic veneer, layered atop the lush phantasmagoria gushing about in this jaunt of jouissance.
Had only this Gilded Nightmare of Innocence Lost been rendered in actual film stock, bleeding the lush and organic smudges, scratches, grains, and burns inherent within that phenomenal medium, this del Toroian tale would have been far more frightening, as the visceral qualities it portends would have boiled more cauldronly before our gaping eye holes.
Despite all of its ravenously insatiable surface, and del Toro’s attention to delivering a Crimson Peak world in astonishing detail, he largely fails in subverting the gothic horror genre he allegedly intended to tatter. The foundation supporting this monstrosity lacks any significant spine, and the hollow bones beneath it all are brittle fallen leaves crumbled into powder and dust. We are given the ages-old haunted house horror story set-up that many of us love as children this time of year; yet those nostalgic tales of what-goes-bump-in-the-night, coupled with all of the horror porn of our sinfully digital present have largely desensitized us to such degree, that few will find themselves horrified in any way here.
Had del Toro and co-writer Matt Robbins (Mimic) gone back to the graveyard to resurrect the best of Hitchcockian terror, had they unearthed the essence of the psychological tropes that true master had employed in his oeuvre of masterpieces (ranging from such visions as The Birds, Psycho, Rear Window, or Vertigo), then perhaps Crimson Peak might actual send some ghastly shivers into the movie seat.