Friday 16 October 2015

Crimson Peak ... A beautiful haunted house

CRIMSON Peak is about a haunted house that contains many dark secrets. You've heard this line
  It's also about a young female writer aiming to make a mark in the literary world . You've heard this line before, too.
   While living at this haunted house, the woman starts seeing things, for example, ghostly apparitions of skeletons dyed in red tormenting her conscious and subconscious.

  Is she really seeing these figures? Viewers are told at the start of Mexican director Guillermo del Torro's film that 10-year-old Edith Cushing can see ghosts (a la The Sixth Sense).
   Fourteen years later, Edith (Mia Wasikowska) aspires to be a writer, submitting a story to an editor for publication, telling him that it's a story with a ghost in it. The editor rejects her story, saying there's no romance in it.
  Astute viewers will know that Edith will either get to write or experience something like this by the end of the film.
   The film is set in the late 19th century, and it has an Edith Wharton-esque feel to it. The saturated colours, costumes and lighting add a rich texture to the film, and the blonde cheerfulness of Gwyneth Paltrow, sorry, I mean, Wasikowska, captivates viewers.
   Wasikowska exudes innocence to a T. She has never experienced love and is swept of her feet by Englishman Baron Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who comes to the US seeking funds to build an outlandish red clay steam excavator for mining.
  Edith's father Carter (Jim Beaver) is a self-made developer. His Spidey sense starts tingling about Thomas, but he can't put his hand on the problem. He does, however, grab Thomas's hand and feels it, saying it's smoother than a woman's, and that he doesn't trust a man who hasn't toiled in the field.
  This remark is pertinent as Thomas is a man whose strings are pulled by his scheming sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, much more convincing here than in The Martian). He does her bidding without arguing.
  When Edith does marry Thomas, she follows him chastely to his once-stately manor, and he gets down to business with his excavator plan. He later shows Edith his dirty hands, and remarks that her father would have appreciated his hard work.
Mia Wasikowska in the gorgeous haunted house.
    In the penultimate scene, Lucille taunts him and asks him to get his hands dirty and do their dirty deeds for once.
   Hiddleston does a good job showing Thomas's weak knees and his submissiveness to Lucille, who's two years older than him.
   Wasikowksa also acquits herself well, although her role as the heroine doesn't require her to do much. She does get to show at the end that the pen is mightier than the sword.
    I'd like to have seen a bigger role for Chastain's Lucille, but I suppose her role requires her to step into bigger shoes only in the film's second half. Her soliloquy about the meaning of true love is engrossing.
    Crimson Peak refers to the red clay that oozes out of the mansion's ground during winter and mixes with the snow, creating an impression of a bloodied war field.
  The mansion deserves special mention, because it's a character of its own. It's humongous, regal, imposing and scary. I immediately thought of the Natural Science Museum in London, especially it's spacious lobby and huge staircase.
    Del Torro deserves praise for not giving viewers an immediate tour of the dilapidated structure, but letting viewers, and Edith, absorb the mansion's Gothic architecture, nooks and don't-go-into-the-basement warning.
   However, it's not ghosts that viewers should be afraid of, but the devilish antics of the two siblings.
   The ghouls do come out, but they're hardly as scary as the humans. At the end, viewers do get a story with a ghost in it, and a somewhat twisted definition of love, but a huge shout-out goes to the production designer who created the crumbling manor.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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