Blu-ray Review: “Crimson Peak”

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver
Directed By: Guillermo Del Toro
Distributed by: Universal
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Date: February 9th 2016

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

Universal did a disservice this past fall in marketing Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous gothic romance Crimson Peak as straight up ‘horror film’. It has its share of ghosts and oozes atmosphere but it’s far from the slasher genre. Hopefully this Gothic romance will find a larger audience as it makes way onto Blu-ray and DVD today.

Synopsis: Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing an aspiring ghost story author in 1901 Buffalo, New York. She’s won over by mysterious English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) who, along with sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), is seeking to do business with her father (Jim Beaver). Upon the brutal death of her father, Edith is off to England to become the Lady of the Sharpe’s ancestral home, the ominous Allerdale Hall. There, Edith contends with the decaying architecture, ghostly warnings and the Sharpes’ own secrets coming to light.

Blu-Ray Review: Crimson Peak was one of my favorite films of 2015 (you can read my full theatrical review here). Hiddleston and Chastain make for a formidable brother-sister duo opposite Wasikowska’s tenacious Edith whose character only grows stronger as the film progresses. The real achievement of the film however is Del Toro’s impressive production design team. From Tom Sanders’s meticulously detailed sets, especially the built-from-scratch rooms of Allerdale Hall–to Kate Hawley’s fairytale-ready costume designs, the film is visually jaw dropping. All the better then to see it again on blu-ray now where I was excited to pore over more details than I could catch quickly on the big screen.

In this regard the special features on this disc definitely deliver. Several featurettes cover every aspect of Peak‘s world particularly “A Living Thing” which sees the sets of Allerdale Hall worked and reworked from scale models to the final product over a five month period. Tom Hiddleston then offers a walking tour of “the biggest and most extraordinary set [he has] ever seen” in “Beware of Crimson Peak” as we see how functional the set was in action. His commentary adds somewhat wistfully that this was the last day the set was up, but what a relief this release sees them so fully documented.

Del Toro’s commentary track finishes off the extras and, as expected, is filled with the director speaking about influences and inspirations for the film whether from art or film history. The whole thing is worth a listen, but if you’re not so into commentary viewing I gleaned my five favorite trivia bits (spoilers, of course):

  • The ghostly appearance of Edith’s mother in the opening of the film was based on Del Toro’s own mother’s experience in seeing his grandmother’s ghost on the very day of her funeral. Del Toro also speaks about having stayed in his own haunted hotel room in New Zealand when scouting locations for The Hobbit (when he was still attached to direct).
  • In the New York party scene, Del Toro had to restructure the waltz performed by Thomas and Edith to be only performed by Hiddleston and Wasikowska, lest the production have to shell out over a million more dollars in upgrading his acting extras to ‘dancers’.
  • The hallway of Edith’s childhood home is patterned in the same way as Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, a favorite of Del Toro’s.
  • Del Toro decided he wanted to flop the gender norms of the Gothic Romance in Crimson Peak. In this spirit, he cast Charlie Hunnam’s Dr. Allan as ‘the damsel in distress’ in the latter sequences of the film (to which Hunnam eagerly agreed) and flipped what GDT dubbed ‘the nudity quotient’ in the intimate scene between Hiddleston and Wasikowska.
  • As Edith gets further into danger at Allerdale Hall, the actual props around her were scaled up in proportion to Edith. Things like a wingback chair and the ominous teacup were made roughly 30% larger than they originally appeared. (No doubt inflicting some Wonderland deja vü for Wasikowska!)

Crimson Peak is available on Bluray and digitally now. Meanwhile, you can check out a look at some of the set featurettes from Universal Home Video below:

Film Review “Crimson Peak”

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
Running Time: 119 mins.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

If you’re looking for a getaway this Halloween season, you can probably do no better than the red oozing walls of Allerdale Hall. This ominous edifice nicknamed “Crimson Peak” for the bloody looking clay that stains the snowy terrain outside the mansion is the home of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest haunting tale. More beautiful than terrifying, Crimson Peak is a sumptuous Gothic romance that throws viewers neck deep into a storybook world from the unique director behind Pan’s Labyrinth. It takes a lot of time immersing us into his heroine’s world but our eyes are dazzled even as we wait for any real chills to kick in. Del Toro’s vision is suitably matched by his small cast of characters lead by a positively ferocious Jessica Chastain.

In 1901 Buffalo, New York, the young Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) is struggling with a misogynistic publisher to get her ghost story manuscript to print. He believes the lady needs a love story while she’s striving to be the next Mary Shelley. Edith herself is no stranger to real ghosts as her own cholera-stricken dead mother reappeared to her as a child. Into her bookish world sweeps the tall, dark and angsty Sir Thomas Sharpe from England (Hiddleston) seeking an investment from Edith’s father (Beaver). Apparently the ore deposits in the red clay of Crimson Peak are worth money if Thomas could just get investors to help him complete the machinery he needs to mine the place. Publicly humiliated by Edith’s father, Thomas turns his attentions on Edith herself, sweeping her off her feet with a waltz in front of all society and especially rankling her would-be suitor Allan (Hunnam). Conveniently Thomas’s are the only nearby arms Edith can run into when Edith’s father is mysteriously murdered soon after and it’s off to become Lady Sharpe she goes!

In England, Edith quickly realizes her father’s reservations regarding the Sharpes–Thomas shares his mansion only with severe sister Lucille (Chastain, back to her in a bit)–were not unfounded. Thomas is as terribly off as Mr.Cushing said, with a sinking house that would be optimistically listed as “a well ventilated fixer upper.” It’s got “character” in spades! Did I mention the walls bleed? Still Edith soldiers on because, well did I also mention tall, dark and angsty? Hiddleston wears that (and an array of Victorian era finery) well. Like, maybe-a-couple-ghosts-in-the-bathtub-isn’t-a-deal-breaker, well. The real delights in the move to Crimson Peak however are a tie between the cavernous home, with its creaky accompanying sound design and Lucille Sharpe.

As Lucille, in her restrictive gowns and with her deader than deadpan voice tone, Chastain sinks her teeth into the considerable scenery. Her grim presence looms over her brother and his bride in that fun Mrs. Danvers kind of way. Most of the best scenes are the ones with her and Thomas holding tense discussions in the shadows. Their formidable history simmers just below the surface and as in the best Gothic stories, reflects the decaying environment around them. She desperately clings to their status quo while he, with Edith now in the picture, seems to glimpse a change in the winds, but is it too late?

And that’s Crimson Peak’s best achievement really, the oppressive atmosphere that the very walls inflict on everyone. And fortunately for us, young Edith is so apt to explore. Her endless curiosity to seek out all the nooks and crannies of the home to learn their secrets go against all reasonable horror movie rules. She shouldn’t follow that noise, talk to the ghosts or poke that red goo with a stick and yet I too wanted to know everything about the place. The production design and costumes from Thomas E. Sanders and Kate Hawley, respectively, are simply to die for and go a long way in filling in the gaps that the story leaves out. For better or worse, I suspect the house itself warrants repeat viewings of Peak. As for the true horror moments, Del Toro certainly does not shy away from ghouls or gore, but set in Allerdale Hall, they’re more the norm than cause for shock. This is a classic Gothic romance being wholly embraced by everyone on screen.

Crimson Peak is now open and you can check out interview with Doug Jones, the actor behind many of Peak’s ghosts here.