Del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” Is Totally Insane

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“Crimson Peak” is insane.

But you have to assume Guillermo del Toro knows what he’s doing.

Del Toro, of “Hellraiser,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Strain,” is a master fantasy storyteller.

crimWith “Peak” he dips into all genre possibilities as if choosing just one would spoil the fun.

Along the way the over-the-top “Peak” suggests “Scream” without humor, for  knowingly playing with genre tropes, and the high campiness of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ without the songs, as a narrative inspiration.

Del Toro, who co-wrote the screenplay with – flashback – “batteries not included” writer Matthew Robbins,  follows two well trod horror genre routes; supernatural and psychological, with an emphasis on “psycho.”

It is set during New York’s Gilded Age. Mia Wasikowska is a fledgling writer doted on by her widowed affluent father.

His death leaves her vulnerable to the affections of an attentive but odd suitor, played by Tom Hiddleston, and his sinister and scowling piano-playing sister portrayed by Jessica Chastain.

The young girl is whisked away to the siblings’ sprawling – estate is the wrong word – ramshackle English mansion whose intricate interior design is central to the film’s strange doings.

It is roofless, allowing snow, rain and fog and clouds of moths to drift through the foyer. It has an Escher-like staircase and hunched hallways with ribbed ceilings. It comes with a “don’t go in the basement” warning and groans and howls as if in pain or dread. Its grounds are a wasteland, except for a barren tree and a steampunk-looking device Hiddleston is building, with help from Wasikowska‘s inheritance.

The clay that is the area’s only natural resource oozes through floors and walls coloring them blood red. In winter it bleeds through the snow, crausing the effect of the title.

The ghostly-pale Wasikowska, meanwhile is haunted by apparitions that only she can see around every corner.  She is no stranger to the supernatural and no shrinking violet when encountering it, having been visited as a child by a wraithlike spectre of her late mother warning her of future events.

Beware, it tells her, of Crimson Peak. (The spectres are played by veteran synthespian Doug Jones.)

Like the hotel in “The Shining,” the mansion is a central character. And like Hiddelston, a vampire in “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and Chastain, a scar on her lip and channeling Frau Blucher, it hides its secrets in plain sight. Everything is so obvious – there is even a handsome alternative suitor, played by Charlie Hunnam, properly suspicious of Hiddleston – it leaves the impression story is not as important as execution.

The result is effectively creepy. And thoroughly insane.

*** Three Stars

With Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastsain, Doug Jones, Jim Beaver.

Produced by Guillermo del Toro, Thomas Tull, Callum Greene, John Jashni.

Written by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins. Directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Rated R; violence, sexual reference, language. Approximate running time: 119 minutes.

 

 

 

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