A Crash Course in Horror is a weekly column by our self-proclaimed horror movie noob, Noémi Pomerleau. Each week, she reviews a classic (or even “new classic”) horror movie from the viewpoint of someone who has never seen it (because, well, she hasn’t). Check out the column every Saturday morning here at Nerd Much.
Any movie buff worth their salt is familiar with the work of Guillermo Del Toro. He’s a director with an incredible imagination who loves creating visual masterpieces. You’re probably most familiar with him because of either Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, or the kaiju-punching epic Pacific Rim. Or maybe because of that little horror game he was supposed to make with Hideo Kojima.
Last month his latest film, a horror piece called Crimson Peak, was released. After the debacle that was Goodnight, Mommy, I decided to make up for my mistake and give seeing a horror movie in theaters another try.
Crimson Peak is the story of a young woman named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who lives a privileged life in America. Her father (Jim Beaver) is a wealthy industrialist, and she’s an eligible young bachelorette who has dreams of being a published author. Life seems to be going great for her, except for the fact that she can see ghosts, and her mother’s ghost keeps trying to warn her about a place called Crimson Peak. Of course she leaves out any specifics, because you know ghosts — they just love to be mysterious!
While typing up a manuscript at her father’s office one day, Edith ends up meeting an aristocrat named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Thomas is extremely good-looking (obviously, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston) and Edith finds herself immediately attracted to him. A bunch of spoilers that I won’t discuss happen, they end up getting married, and she moves with him to England. They move to a house at the top of a hill — at its peak, one might say — where the clay in the ground seeps an odd red color. You’d probably call it Crimson. What I’m saying, Edith, is that you really should have figured this out long before an hour into the movie when somebody actually called it Crimson Peak to your face.
Spoiler alert (not really): BAD THINGS INVOLVING GHOSTS HAPPEN AT CRIMSON PEAK.
Horror films have proven to be the playground for Hollywood’s best cinematographers from my experience so far, so I’m not surprised Del Toro is attracted to the genre. Crimson Peak is ASTOUNDING to look at. The colours in this movie are so lush, and the set design and costuming is absolutely magnificent. Even the molding of the walls in the house are designed to look dangerous and unwelcoming. Everything has so much thought and effort put into it and the film is a joy to watch because of it.
The design of the ghosts is the most special of all. They look like a zombie had sex with the smoke monster from Lost. They’re fleshy and wispy at the same time and the whole effect is enough to make your skin crawl. They do look too obviously CG at times. I think it may have been a good idea for them to be built with more practical effects, but most of the time when a ghost shows up you are way too scared to notice that it might be a touch too shiny.
The action scenes where ghosts appear are so well paced and make use of camera angles to make sure that we know exactly what’s coming for Edith while giving her a good reason to look away. It felt a lot like perfectly timed spawns in a horror game, which just makes me angrier that Del Toro very nearly got the chance to make one before everything went horribly wrong.
Don’t think that I’m saying that Crimson Peak is a great film. Far from it. To put it bluntly, this movie is dumb. It’s so dumb that I left the theater extremely confused by how much I liked it.
The plot is fine, but feels fairly typical. It’s trope-heavy, and I predicted most of what was going to happen by 30 minutes in. It also forces its characters to behave extremely naively in order to keep things in motion. I lose a lot of sympathy for a character when they make stupid choices, and Edith makes some dumb decisions to help this plot move along. If the plot was interesting, that could be worth it, but it’s mostly just bad. I might forgive the film for having a kind of silly plot if it didn’t double down on the silly with exaggerated acting and ridiculous dialogue.
The dialogue in this movie made me (and many others in the audience) laugh out loud at certain points. At one point, Edith asks Thomas if there have been any violent deaths in the house, and his response is 3 seconds of shifting his eyes back and forth and then a hurried “I really must get back to work”. Shifty behavior like that is common through the whole film. All of these characters telegraph their emotions as if they were a toddler, frowning deeply and pouting when they’re angry and basically shuffling their feet and avoiding eye contact when they feel guilty. It’s about as subtle as a brick to the face.
Mia Wasikowska rightfully seems uncomfortable to be delivering her more awkward lines, and I can’t blame her, but her co-stars do a better job of rising above the material. Tom Hiddleston somehow manages to be charming and sexy even while sounding completely goofy, but it’s Jessica Chastain who really shines. She knows exactly what movie she’s in and she’s owning it. She isn’t dragged down by the cheesy dialogue and delivers it in a way that makes it seem natural.
The music really doesn’t help. The bland orchestra score comes blasting into a scene hoping to inspire some emotions, but it just made me wish they’d turn the volume down. The sound design in the film is top-quality, which just makes the music more disappointing. If it had been cut entirely in favor of ambient sound and sound effects, it would have been a huge improvement.
If you’re somebody who gets really caught up on bad writing or cheesy music, Crimson Peak isn’t a good choice for you. It does, however, manage to be genuinely spooky despite it — probably because nobody tries to banter with the ghosts. This movie is also eye candy of the highest order, which was enough to justify the ticket price in my eyes. I had a lot of fun watching it (sometimes because I was laughing at it) and would absolutely say it’s worth seeing.
Next week I’m going to watch a modern horror classic that actually TRIES to make you laugh, Shaun of the Dead. How have I seen both of the other movies in the Cornetto Trilogy 4 times each but never watched the most famous of them all? I don’t even know. But come next Saturday, that will be resolved!
As always, don’t forget to suggest more horror movies for me to watch! If you want me to get to your favorite, the only way to guarantee it is to ask me for it.