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Directed and co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, 2015's Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), the beautiful daughter of wealthy industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). They live together in their massive family home in Buffalo, New York where Edith hopes to one day get her novel published. The ghosts in her book, she's keen on telling anyone who reads it, are a metaphor.
Soon enough, Carter is approached by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an inventor from England who is hoping to secure funding for a machine he wants to use in his family's red clay mining operation back in his homeland. Thomas and Edith seem to fall for one another quite quickly but as Carter digs around in Thomas' past, he realizes that the man is broke and therefore not particularly suitable dating material for his daughter. He forces Thomas to break it off and both he and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), are quickly put in their place. Shortly after this happens, Carter is brutally murdered, his face smashed to pieces against the porcelain sink in the bathroom by an unseen assailant. With precious few alternatives, Edith marries Thomas and accompanies he and Lucille back to England to live with them in the massive rundown mansion built atop the family's red clay mine.
As Edith adjusts to her bizarre new surroundings, it becomes clear that something is not right. She begins to see ghosts, similar to those she has written about, and the behavior of her new husband and sister-in-law starts to become unusual. Meanwhile, back in America, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who seems to have feelings for Edith, starts to put together the pieces of this strange puzzle.
Far less the horror movie that Universal's deceptive marketing campaign made it out to be, Crimson Peak may deal with ghosts but it is most assuredly a gothic romance. That's not to say that the movie isn't rich with atmosphere and some surprisingly dark overtones or that it doesn't earn its R-rating with some strong violence, but if you go into this one looking for scares you'll probably walk away disappointed. Having addressed that, Del Toro's love of the horror genre comes through in a big way throughout the movie primarily in terms of the visual style employed in the film. The opening scene has a warmth to it (enhanced by some subtle sepia toned colors) that, once we move to the titular mansion owned by what's left of the Sharpe family, gives way to some impressive production values and set design. Both the interior and exterior work down around the Crimson Peak location is steeped in the tradition of gothic horror films like Castle Of Blood in that everything is draped in shadows and darkness and that many of the rooms in the home seem to hold dark secrets. The use of color throughout the film, red in particular (the clay seems to ooze out of the ground and drip through the crevices of the crumbling estate creating an immediate contrast to the white of the perpetual snowfall), is gorgeous if occasionally in a macabre sort of way. When you consider red to be both the color most associated with romance and the color most associated with murder the reason for the director's emphasis on this particular hue becomes clear. The period costumes are also impressive. The attention to detail evident throughout the movie is a big part of what makes the film as interesting as it is. This is a remarkably stylish picture.
Also strong are the performances. Mia Wasikowska is a beautiful woman but so too is she a talented actress and as Edith, Del Toro gives her much to work with. Her character, influenced it would seem by Mary Shelly, goes through a pretty intense arc by the time that the movie is done with and she handles all aspects of this quite admirably. Jim Beaver is good as her father and Charlie Hunnam solid as the noble doctor. More memorable, however, are Hiddleston and Chastain as the Sharpe's. Though at first he seems charming and sweet, as the story shifts locations to England his troubles become more obvious and his sister's part in those troubles equally so. Hiddleston and Chastain do fine work here, both look appropriate to their characters but so too do they handle the range and emotional depth that the storyline calls for.
As to the story itself (Del Toro co-wrote with Matthew Robbins, they're clearly channeling Poe at times), it moves slowly. Again, this isn't a traditional horror movie and it doesn't necessarily need to be, but your expectations should be in check when approaching a picture like this. It deals not in cheap thrills or gory murder set pieces but instead in atmosphere, tone and, yes, some fairly heavy handed dramatic romance. The ghost s in the film are not scary (though they are interesting to look at) and some of the romance is stilted and, in the tradition of gothic soaps, overdone and somewhat predictable. Things fall apart a bit at the end (Edith's intelligence was such a strong point in the first half of the movie and it seems to fade once she moves to England) and the contrivances of her romance with Thomas crumble quickly, but despite these flaws Crimson Peak is well made and, if you're in the right frame of mind for it, reasonably engaging stuff, particularly in regard to the visuals.
Crimson Peak arrives on Blu-ray from Universal Studios in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Shot digitally, obviously there isn't going to be any print damage, dirty, debris or grain to note. Detail is typically rock solid throughout, though some of the scenes that feature an abundance of digital effects do look a little flat when compared to those that do not. Black levels are reference quality and we get very strong shadow detail here (with only occasional scenes allowing the darkness to swallow things up a bit) while color reproduction, the reds in in particular, is beautiful. Skin tones look fine, never too hot or too cold in appearance, while the picture is free of any obvious compression artifacts.
The main audio options on the disc are an English language DTS-X and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (which is how the movie was watched for the purposes of this review), and it really is an impressive one. Music swirls about the soundstage with tremendous power and heft without ever burying the dialogue. The sound effects that are used throughout the movie have superb directionality to them, perfectly enhancing the atmosphere of the film while demonstrating acutely balanced levels. There's nice range and depth to the voices of the cast, there's a very strong low end that provides the appropriate amount of rumble when the movie calls for it, and the attention to detail afforded the sound design in the movie really shines through here. Alternate language options are provided in Spanish and French DTS 5.1 Surround Sound while optional subtitles are offered up in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Extras start off with a commentary track from Guillermo del Toro himself where he's pretty blunt about his feelings on the way that the studio advertised the film. More importantly than that, he explains some of his influences here, talks about the contributions of the cast and crew, chats about the locations and special effects work that play such a huge part in the look of the movie and how he tried to incorporate different elements of different genres into the storyline. Del Toro's commentary tracks are always interesting and infectious in their enthusiasm and this one is no exception. It's interesting, insightful and a lot of fun to listen to.
From there, dig into the wealth of featurettes that have been put together for this release, starting with the four part I Remember Crimson Peak. Here we get individual sections on The Gothic Corridor, The Scullery, The Red Clay Mines and The Limbo Fog Set and as you'd guess from the titles these explore the different sets and locations that play such a big part in the look and atmosphere of the movie. Running just under twenty minutes combined, these are interesting to see. Del Toro pops up again in the five and a half minute A Primer On Gothic Romance where, along with some help from a few cast members, he gives us a quick rundown on the genre that so clearly influenced him while making this particular feature. The eight minute The Light And Dark Of Crimson Peak gives us yet more information on the set design employed in the movie with a heavy emphasis on how different colors are used for different reasons throughout the picture while the nine minute Hand Tailored Gothic digs fairly deep into the costumes that were created for the film and how they accentuate different aspects of the story and the characters that inhabit it. A Living Thing gives us twelve minutes behind the scenes of the aging house that serves as the main set for the last half of the movie, while Beware Of Crimson Peak is an eight minute segment with actor Tom Hiddleston who serves as our tour guide for another look through the massive abode. The last featurette is the seven minute Crimson Phantoms and as the title suggest it's a look at how the ghostly creatures that appear in the film were created through a mix of different special effect techniques.
Rounding out the extras are a handful of quick deleted scenes (The Park, Thomas' Presentation, Father Consoles Daughter, Thomas Sees A Ghost and Lucille At The Piano, none running more than a minute in length), menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release the Blu-ray comes packaged alongside a DVD version of the movie and inside the case there's also an insert card with a download code for a Digital HD Version of the film. The two discs and insert fit nicely inside a standard sized Blu-ray case that in turn fits inside a cardboard slipcover.
Crimson Peak isn't a perfect film but it is often times a very impressive one. The performances are strong and the visuals equally stunning, which makes it easy enough to overlook some of the shortcomings of the actual plot. As to the Blu-ray itself, it looks excellent and sounds even better and on top of that it's stacked with some strong supplements. All in all, this is a very nice package for a pretty solid feature. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.