October 30, 2015

Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro is a master of surreal, atmospheric horror - as evidenced by Pan's Labyrinth, which even now I can't seem to find any other movie with which to compare. As soon as I heard that he was making a Victorian Gothic ghost story - with Tom Hiddleston, no less - I could barely contain my excitement and frenzied curiosity.

Crimson Peak is a magnificent visual and atmospheric feat. You must see it in the big screen to fully enjoy the experience. This is the type of movie that I willingly pay almost $13 for. Every scene is arresting - I didn't want to blink and miss anything, except when it was too gory (yes, this has some blood and gore. Things were done to faces that I have not seen before) and I had to avert my eyes. 

Mia Wasikowska plays a Edith, a beautiful young heiress and budding writer of ghost stories. When her father dies, she agrees to marry a mysterious English lord, Thomas Sharpe, played by the always delicious Tom Hiddleston (!). Together with his strange and hostile sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) they live in a decaying English mansion called Crimson Peak, which of course is haunted by horrifying ghosts. 

There are shades of Rebecca and Bluebeard and some telling literary references. For instance, when Edith is mocked by other debutantes for wanting to be Jane Austen "who died a virgin," Edith retorts, "I'd rather be Mary Shelley and die a widow."

Tom Hiddleston is pitch perfect as a pale, Byronic English lord but Jessica Chastain easily stole the entire movie. With her sharp cheekbones and dramatic beauty, plus over-the-top performance as the menacing Lucille, I could not keep my eyes of off Jessica. It also helped that she had the most lavish costumes. 

 This dark blue-green velvet number was one she wore most in the interior mansion scenes. It is heavy, tightly structured, and sensual all at once, almost blending into the dark shadows of Crimson Peak's decaying ruins.

This burgundy gown is our first glimpse of Lucille in the movie - she looks regal - almost Queen Elizabeth-like, but it gives off an unmistakeable aura of danger.

This black velvet number was only used in one scene but it's my favorite - so striking against Jessica's pale skin, with that unexpected bright, red flower pinned to the bodice.

Mia Wasikowska was in one ethereal and diaphanous white nightgown after another for most of the movie, underscoring her innocence and youth as a light amidst the moldy and ghost-infested mansion. Early on there is a scene between Edith and Lucille discussing butterflies and over and over butterflies appear as a leif motif in various ways throughout the movie. 

Edith is the rare and beautiful butterfly in her leg-of-mutton sleeved nightgowns, as light and airy as wings, flitting about amidst the horrors of her husband's home.

My favorite costume of Edith's is in the party scene, where she wears a cream silk gown with ropes of pearls.

The only character more over-the-top and visually stunning than Lucille is the mansion itself. I could practically smell the mildew and feel the draft of cold air. Apparently, Del Toro had a real mansion built for the movie, which has unfortunately been already torn down.

If Crimson Peak does not get nominated for costume design or set design at the Oscars next year, it will be a horror indeed.

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