Hello, loyal readers! It’s time for another MediaBrewPub Email Throwdown. This past week, Andrew, Jun, and Simon were able to take in Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Crimson Peak. It’s been a while since the world has seen a del Toro film, and they were excited to see his latest creation on the silver screen. So let’s get to it! WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
Andrew’s thoughts are in red, Jun’s in blue, and Simon’s in green.
I was really stoked to see this movie. I really enjoy haunted house stories, I think del Toro is a magician in the world of horror, and the cast is out of this world. So I scheduled a date night with the wifey for the sole purpose of taking in this movie. If it sounds like there’s a “but” coming (and not just Tom Hiddleston’s naked butt), it’s because there is. I really enjoyed it, but felt like it was missing that je ne sais quoi that would bump it into the realm of classic horror films. But you know what, let’s get this thing started off with what I thought went right…
This film was a joy to look at. I think horror is the perfect genre for del Toro because his backgrounds are always shifting in very subtle manners. There’s always a bug, a bit of flowing water, a candle flickering… something that makes the screen almost crawl towards you. Crimson Peak is an excellent title for the film because the screen was practically bleeding with rich reds and maroons. If just for the visual experience, I’d say he knocked it out of the park.
I thought the casting was also very solid. I really enjoyed the performance of Jim Beaver as Carter Cushing. His role was relatively minor but I thought he played the loving and protective father character very well. And Burn Gorman, whom I think is a poor man’s Willem Dafoe, always plays the seedy, sneaky-looking character perfectly. With strong representation in the supporting roles, it created a solid foundation for our main characters to shine. Thoughts, highbrow?
Like Andrew, I’d been looking forward to Crimson Peak for a while. From what I gathered from news about the film and its trailers, it was right up del Toro’s alley and screamed passion project (here’s an excellent profile from The New Yorker on del Toro that I think any fan ought to read). Overall, I enjoyed it but also found it underwhelming to a degree, which I’ll go into later.
I think that anyone who goes into this movie expecting it to be a horror film is bound to be slightly disappointed, which is understandable because it’s being marketed as such, even though del Toro stated many times that he designed it to be a fairy tale or gothic romance. I knew about this beforehand, and as someone who doesn’t quite enjoy the horror genre to begin with, I probably had a better time with this than, say, a horror fanatic.
You know what this movie reminded me of? Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. I happen to like both works – with the latter being my favorite Hitchcock film – so I thought it was cool that del Toro seemed to be paying tribute to these. Kudos to him and screenwriter Matthew Robbins for making a female-centric film and subverting the gender roles typically associated with films in this genre.
For the most part, the cast knock it out of the park. The cherub-faced Mia Wasikowska carries herself confidently and nails the beats of Edith Cushing’s arc. Tom Hiddleston is a standout, imbuing Thomas Sharpe with sadness and making him a character to sympathize with even though he’s obviously shady. The best performance goes to Jessica Chastain, who’s proving to be one of the best working actresses at the moment; she clearly relishes the opportunity to play an antagonist, and she’s absolutely frightening as Lucille Sharpe.
Let’s face it, though: the true star behind Crimson Peak is the titular estate, which is gorgeous. You can tell that del Toro was itching to get to it, and the film really takes off once Edith arrives there. The fact that the crew actually built it makes it seem like another character and a living being, and there’s so much contrast going on between the beautiful and the grotesque. The colors are rich and pop despite the mansion being shrouded in shadow most of the time. You get a sense of the building’s history by looking at the sheer number of props and designs that populate it and flesh it out.
This is a very pretty picture, and as Andrew mentioned, it really is a visual experience. Dan Laustsen’s deliberately slow-moving cinematography heightens this sense of claustrophobia and captures the nooks and crannies of the mansion. Period films tend to have terrific costumes, and this movie is no different; costume designer Kate Hawley knows how to dress the cast up, and not only do they look stunning, they blend in perfectly with the environment.
Generally speaking, there’s a lot to be pleased with. What say you, boss?
This will probably make my first foray into email throwdown boring, but I mostly agree with what Jun and Andrew have said.
I knew going in that del Toro had been pushing away from the horror angle. He is insistent on classifying the movie as a Gothic romance. Even knowing ahead of time that this wasn’t full horror, I was still disappointed with how little there was. There’s a self-aware line when Edith is talking about a story she wrote, where she says her story is “not a ghost story, it’s a story with a ghost.” Crimson Peak works more as a mystery with a ghost than a horror movie with a romance.
There are some scenes that do build fear and tension, but there’s no moment where I was scared. This isn’t the fault of the actors. The cast did a good job with their characters, and I agree that the film’s supporting characters were quite good. I don’t think I enjoyed Jessica Chastain’s performance as much as Jun did, but my complaints are more with her character’s role in the movie than her actual acting. The production of the movie itself is top-notch, and the costumes and set pieces are incredible.
Ironically, the thing I enjoyed the most might have also been what held back the movie, and that is the impressive visuals and amazing production values. It became the focus, and at some point I’d almost appreciate it more if I wasn’t given so much time to soak it in and enjoy it. I get it, it looks great, the costumes are amazing, and wow, such details on the wall! But this made the movie feel slow to me, and not slow as in a slow burn, just slow.
I usually think of movies on a scale that would range from must watch in theaters, worth a rental, Netflix, to don’t watch it at all ever. And for me, Crimson Peak as a complete movie I’m sad to say is in the rental, maybe even as low as the Netflix category. But as a visual experience, it’s at a “must watch in theaters” level. If you were remotely interested in watching it before, you should watch it, preferably in theaters for the full experience. Otherwise, it’s a safe movie to pass on.
Wow, harsh remarks from Simon. I’m used to that kind of crap from Jun, but I expected you to be more on my side than our resident film critic.
I see this as crossing over into the horror genre. It’s a scary story. It came out in October. My wife was terrified any time the ghosts were on screen. While it may not be a classic horror film, I think it’s okay to drop it in that category.
Going back to the cast, I find it interesting that Jun specifically left out Charlie Hunnam. But I totally get it. Hiddleston is charismatic and engaging. Mia What-the-heck-is-her-name comes off as both strong and vulnerable in a wonderful performance. Chastain is gorgeous but menacing. Seriously strong showings. And then there’s Hunnam. I love the guy. He’s charming, he’s good-looking, I’m a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy. But I’m going to break out some basketball geek stuff for a moment. Hunnam is Christian Laettner on the Dream Team. Laettner might be the best college basketball player of all time. But in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the Dream Team had Jordan. It had Magic. It had Bird. Barkley, Stockton, Ewing… the list goes on. It’s not to say that Laettner was a terrible player. But if you’re watching the Dream Team, why focus on him when you’ve got Jordan? You’re not going to shit on the amateur, but you certainly would say he was a bit out of his league. Hunnam is Christian Laettner.
So what was my issue with the movie? I thought it got me 80 percent of the way there. That’s my problem. I thought it started off really well and then hit a great stride when they introduced the estate. Things were moving, and I was intrigued by what would happen. And then the story happened. It wasn’t a terrible way for the plot to break – turns out they’ve been suckering women into marrying Hiddleston’s character for years. And there’s incest in the Sharpe household. These are not terrible bits of story. But my wife said it best: “It was pretty predictable.” If the story is going to be that straightforward, you need to push the envelope on the horror. The ghosts were menacing and I liked that their ethereal forms were representative of the state of decay that their physical corpses were in, but they did not do enough. Either go scary or go deeper (with the story). I feel like maybe the problem that you guys had was that it was a film that was struggling with an identity crisis.
On a positive note: I did enjoy that the grotesque spirits turned out to be the young Lady Cushing’s (or Sharpe if you prefer) saviors. I know it’s a bit cliché, but the fact that Hiddleston/Chastain are hot and evil while the ghosts are terrifying/ugly and good is always something I appreciate. And in the end, I would watch this movie for two things: the beautiful visuals and the amazing Tom Hiddleston (and his shapely rear). It was an ambitious project but, as opposed to punishing it for not being the next Pan’s Labyrinth, I’m going to appreciate it for the things it did well.
Final thoughts, fellas?
Regarding Charlie Hunnam – I think he was just okay. His performance here is a slight improvement over his Pacific Rim one, but really, he’s just here to fill a character, which he does adequately. I haven’t seen Sons of Anarchy, but from what I’ve read, he’s good in the show, and the impression I get is that he’s yet to find that one role on film that brings out his best abilities and talents as an actor. I hope he does so soon, since some have labeled him as bland, which I hope he isn’t.
As Shana – Andrew’s wife – noted, the story is very predictable, and its lack of subtlety doesn’t help at all. This is probably where Simon’s opinion regarding the character of Lucille Sharpe rings true. It’s so obvious that the Sharpes are more than just siblings, and del Toro drops hints that are too heavy-handed for their own good. I get that the horror comes from their incestuous relationship, but even then, the revelation lacks the punch it requires because the buildup to it is quite weak. One film that I keep comparing this to is Shutter Island – also predictable, but what distinguishes it from Crimson Peak is the plot’s flow. Despite its predictability, I thought that everything else came together quite well in Shutter Island to make a compelling journey, but alas, it’s not the same case for this film. The film has an entertaining journey, but it never transcends beyond that.
Also disappointing is its simplicity. I was expecting some deeper meaning or secret to certain items we see, such as the red clay, Thomas’ clay mining machine, the ring, or even the ghosts, but nope, they are what they are. This is probably the downside to placing a supernatural element in a story, because I immediately thought that the ghosts would do something or be related to the aforementioned items. That did not turn out to be the case.
Speaking of the ghosts, I’m mixed on them. Like Andrew said, the fact that they ultimately try to save people instead of haunt them is pretty cool, and I like the idea behind their decomposing and translucent design. What bothers me is that they don’t naturally fit with the physical environment because they’re completely glossed over with CGI, so they kept pulling me out of the movie.
I wouldn’t say that the film struggles with an identity crisis, but it does struggle with a rather hollow story. It’s the foundation, so upon that everything else is built, from the cast and the production design to the visual effects and the sound. The thing is, though, you can still have a solid film if mostly everything that’s built on top of a weak story is at the top of its game, and that describes Crimson Peak. The principal cast is terrific, the production itself is breathtaking, and del Toro makes navigating through all that quite enjoyable.
This movie definitely placed production/visuals as top priority, with thought about characters coming after that. As hollow as the story was, I felt that each of the characters was well thought-out and approached from a unique angle. They might not have done much in the movie, but they each had a sense of history/being/motivation. Unfortunately, the story really only seemed to exist to give actors a chance to show off their characters or show off the production of the set.
I also enjoyed that the scary ghosts ended up being the good guys of sorts. I’m not sure I’d 100 percent call them “good,” but certainly they weren’t your typical “We’re going to get our revenge on you” type. I don’t feel they pulled me out of the movie, but since my problem was that I felt nothing was happening, they might have had the effect of pulling me into the movie. My response was more, “Hey look, ghosts!” and to pay more attention to wait for something else to happen. Unfortunately, the appearance of the ghosts was the event in and of itself most of the time.
I also agree that I wish there were more to things that were in the movie, like the ghosts, red clay, or the mining machine. One thing I did like about the ghosts and red clay is that del Toro didn’t do the typical exploration into their origin. We didn’t need to hear some weak backstory about why they exist. It was just there. But the movie’s use of them could still have been deeper and more intriguing.
I know I’ve been down on this movie, but I did actually enjoy it for the most part and would probably watch it again, especially around Halloween time. I know that contradicts my thoughts of “It’s slow/not much there” and “it’s not a horror/scary movie” but it does have the atmosphere that feels most appropriate for this time of year.
Funnily enough, the more we write about it, the more I actually like Crimson Peak. It definitely had its flaws but, you know me, I’m in it for entertainment and entertainment alone. And I definitely enjoyed my experience watching it. And for all the things it may have gotten wrong, I really enjoyed the final scenes as Chastain fully embraced her crazy and Hiddles got stabbed in the face. I was enthralled. But it’s probably not for everyone.
So there you have it. I believe this was the first three-way E-mail Throwdown, and I must say, it may have been more pleasurable than the movie. I think the consensus was that it was visually stunning, well-cast, but was lacking in depth. Thanks for joining us for this edition of MBP’s E-mail Throwdown!
Andrew’s Rating: 4.0/5.0
Jun’s Rating: 3.5/5.0
Simon’s Rating: 3.5/5.0
* Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures