The gothic romance genre is one that is mostly untouched in contemporary cinema, being a stylistic means of storytelling that has been confined to classic Hollywood of old, with few filmmakers paying homage in as affectionately a way that Guillermo del Toro has done in his latest endeavour Crimson Peak.
Though avoiding becoming a mere pastiche, del Toro borrows from the likes of James Whale and Terence Fisher, to help craft a tale he’s been meaning to tell for a number of years. Mia Wasikowska plays Edith Cushing, an aspiring author who finds herself beguiled by the affluent tourist Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who seeks at convincing the young woman to accept his hand in marriage and move to England, to live in the grandiose abode of the wealthy bachelor and his duplicitous sister, Lady Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Though a move would mean leaving behind her father (Jim Beaver) and childhood acquaintance Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), she can’t help but feel swayed by the fact she would be leaving behind the ghost of her dead mother, who has tormented her since childhood.
What can certainly be said of del Toro’s picture is that he’s created a visually striking feature that bears an enchanting, if harrowing ambiance. He thrives in the gothic grandiosity, with a breathtaking aesthetic where everything, from the furniture to the shadows, feels so deliberately placed. Each frame is meticulously crafted, and it’s easy to abide by it. Yet it’s the characters who inhabit it that are the issue, failing to strike up any sense of emotional connection with the viewer, and proving to be detrimental to the story at hand. Plus, we see too many ghosts – and they aren’t terrifying enough, nor in any way believable, that it does nothing but take us out of the narrative – feeling akin to what the aliens achieve when they show up in Mel Gibson’s Signs; detracting from both the viewer’s investment and enjoyment.
There is little wrong with the performances from Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain – each perfectly cast, with a distinct gothic quality to their demeanour, not to mention bags of talent, illuminating the screen throughout. There’s certainly a reason why the former two have collaborated in a film of this nature before, both appearing in Only Lovers Left Alive – which, unfortunately for del Toro, is the better film.