3 stars
'Ghosts are real,' says Edith. She should know, her dead mother has visited more than once with a cryptic warning about Crimson Peak. So starts this gripping slice of American gothic by horror master, Guillermo del Toro.
There's a convention around cryptic warnings given by ghosts, related or otherwise: ignore them at your peril. So it is when aristocratic Englishman Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston - Only Lovers Left Alive) meets with Edith's father (a successful builder in turn of the century Buffalo), and the young woman feels a flutter where no respectable woman should. Sharpe and his sister (Jessica Chastain - The Martian) are after cash, but soon he's after Edith (Mia Waskikowska - Tracks) as well. Father's not best pleased as he smells two rats in the Sharpe siblings. Edith pays scant attention and after Dad's untimely death, marries and moves to the wilds of Cumbria where a derelict family castle is known locally as Crimson Peak.

del Toro is having a lot fun with a script co-authored by Matthew Robbins (Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark), and ensures we do the same. As with the superior Pan's Labyrinth, it is exquisitely designed, a glorious, Gothic excess that brings to mind Tim Burton with a demented fascination for blood. Lots of blood. Even the Sharpe's haunted castle seems to bleed with distressing ease. There are barrels of the stuff in the basement. Even the land is being swallowed by a predatory, sticky red ooze. Sharpe would say it's red clay, it's why the house is sinking, but somehow we know this is different. So too the ghosts.

As Edith wises up to the siblings' twisted motives and a confident of her father's (Charlie Hunnam - Sons Of Anarchy) mounts rescue plans from afar, stakes rise, tension mounts and plot, such as it is, is thrown to the wind. For once Lucille reveals with lusty melodrama that 'the marriages were for money but the horror, that was for love', del Toro reaches tipping point.

Crimson Peak, for all its sumptuous trappings, is a thin conceit. It is a horror fable, the story-book kind as telegraphed from the opening, that doesn't wander far from genre conventions. His ghosts are of the dismembered, decaying kind, designed to chill rather than thrill (though, in point of fact, they do both extraordinarily well), there are plenty of bang-gotcha moments in slamming doors and , there are a number of gory deaths and the requisite knife chase which culminates in one of cinema's more gratuitous 'oh-dear-god-no'-inducing murders of recent times. Quelle horreur!

That it all adds up to little more than some vague lesson around listening to your mother's ghost is not the point. It's about texture, the thrills and juicy spills of well played horror against sensational design and to that end, Crimson Peak is del Toro in winning form.


Previewed at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney on 14 October 2015

Mia Wasikowska
Tom Hiddleston
Jessica Chastain
Charlie Hunnam

Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro
Matthew Robbins



119 minutes

October 15, 2015
Crimson Peak (2015) on IMDb
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