THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
Every October, I run through a list of my favorite scary movies. While some are timeless enough to watch during any month of the year, some I save, especially for Halloween. With Netflix recently debuting Mike Flanagan‘s gothic romance series The Haunting of Bly Manor, I was drawn to watch one of my all-time favorite horror movies, CRIMSON PEAK. Directed by the great Guillermo Del Toro, CRIMSON PEAK holds a mediocre 73% positive on Rotten Tomatoes but heavily divided audiences. While the love/hate relationship audiences had with CRIMSON PEAK delivered a middling $75 million worldwide box office for the film, I contend that not only is it one of the best haunted house movies of all time but ranks as Guillermo Del Toro’s true masterpiece.
Like Bly Manor, CRIMSON PEAK fits firmly into the sub-genre of “gothic romance”. The backdrop of the dark and stormy mansion with the promise of ghosts likely had audiences expecting something different when they watched the trailers for this film. Based on Guillermo Del Toro’s previous films like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and PAN’S LABYRINTH, audiences should have known they were not getting themselves ready for a conventional horror tale. Still, the horrific imagery teased for the ghosts in this movie is sure to haunt you long after you finish this film but they also represent a terrifying beauty as well. All of Guillermo Del Toro’s films are full of lush visuals that turn even the most macabre into something stunning.
But the visuals of CRIMSON PEAK were rarely debated when the movie was released. Rather, audiences and critics alike seem to find the story itself too melodramatic and thinly written to live up to what Guillermo Del Toro can achieve on screen. Both Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain play their roles as Thomas and Lucille Sharpe with a strength and presence that dwarfs Mia Wasikowska‘s Edith Cushing. Wasikowska excels at playing characters whose physical presence masks their inner ferocity and by the conclusion of CRIMSON PEAK we finally see that play out. But, Hiddleston and Chastain are just so damn good here that they often overshadow Wasikowska. In fact, the whole cast is good including PACIFIC RIM veterans Burn Gorman and Charlie Hunnam as well as Jim Beaver who does wonders with his brief turn as Carter Cushing.
But the true standouts of this film are the ones whose faces we never see. Doug Jones, a frequent Del Toro collaborator, and Javier Botet are the actors under prosthetics as the ghosts and demons of CRIMSON PEAK. Each plays multiple roles and you would never know it was the same person twice. Guillermo Del Toro absolutely knows how to contort and horrify and both Jones and Botet were born to enact those ideas. While a heavy amount of CGI is used in CRIMSON PEAK, the dedication to physically realizing Allerdale Hall is what makes this movie work. The actors interact with the house and each other in such explicit ways that it informs the performances of the actors. You may call the tale melodramatic, but when the grounds of the house look like they are bleeding, you know you aren’t performing Shakespeare. And yet the cast truly gives this story their all and treat the events not with skepticism but with fear and that makes everything more tangible for the audience.
With echoes of classic stories like Daphne DuMariers Rebecca, Henry James‘ The Turn of the Screw, and even Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Guillermo Del Toro echoes some of the greatest ghost stories of all time and modernizes it for the 21st century. While a romance at its core, CRIMSON PEAK is also sexy. There is sex here and taboos broken throughout that would never have been told if this movie had been made fifty years ago. But, the puzzle-like intricacy of the tale requires that the tale take on the melodramatic beats of a lighter story. You could invest yourself in trying to explain the subtext of this story, but Guillermo Del Toro and Matthew Robbins‘ screenplay takes a fairly basic story, adds some familiar twists and surprises, and couples that with spectacular visuals. CRIMSON PEAK doesn’t need to be an allegory or a metaphor. Instead, it works as an homage to gothic films and tales of the past using modern special effects.
CRIMSON PEAK also reunites many Del Toro collaborators including cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Having worked with Guillermo Del Toro on MIMIC and THE SHAPE OF WATER, he brings his similar disposition for the macabre to this film. Unlike many movies over the last twenty years, CRIMSON PEAK makes the darkness of each frame a treat to watch rather than a challenge. Laustsen did something similar on the JOHN WICK sequels which makes the night setting an advantage to the movie. The score comes from Fernando Velazquez who worked on THE ORPHANAGE with Del Toro friend J.A. Bayona. It is a haunting and melodic score that supports the scares and atmosphere of CRIMSON PEAK by elevating it to another level of dread.
Much like how THE SHAPE OF WATER reinvented the monster movie, CRIMSON PEAK revitalizes the haunted house film. Grand, epic, and without comparison, this is a movie for mature audiences. While violent, sexy, and equally disturbing and romantic, CRIMSON PEAK is Guillermo Del Toro working at the height of his directing powers. As good as THE SHAPE OF WATER is, CRIMSON PEAK is the movie that should have earned Del Toro his long-deserved acclaim as a filmmaker. It is a beautiful movie about darkness and grief that is watchable at any time of the year but come Halloween it carries an extra layer of spookiness. This is a movie that is at once a throwback to a type of movie we rarely see these days as well as a passion project that wins in every way it sets out to. I implore you to watch CRIMSON PEAK this Halloween whether it is your first or fiftieth time.
But hey, that’s just my UnPopular Opinion. Tell us your take on CRIMSON PEAK in the comments below.