Film review: Crimson Peak

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Director Guillermo del Toro, who conjured the dark, brooding fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth, flirts with madness and twisted desire in this visually opulent gothic romance.

Set in 19th century New York and snow-laden Cumbria, Crimson Peak is a tour-de-force of mouldering set and costume design, and evocative art direction.

Del Toro’s films always look ravishing, even when his scripts are malnourished, and his ninth feature behind the camera doesn’t disappoint.

The Mexican filmmaker exploits shadow and light to striking effect, and beckons gnarled, tormented spirits with hollow eyes and screaming mouths that seem to warp the world around them.

Co-writer Matthew Robbins draws inspiration from Daphne du Maurier and Henry James for a script that tantalizes and teases for the opening hour, but falls short as the fear and paranoia rise.

As a ghost story, Crimson Peak is suspenseful rather than creepy or chilling.

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Fans of del Toro’s earlier work will be braced for his visual trickery and the explosions of wince-inducing bloodshed that punctuate the serpentine narrative.

Ten-year-old Edith Cushing (Sofia Wells) loses her mother to black cholera.

The matriarch’s soul (Doug Jones) visits Edith after a closed casket burial to deliver a chilling warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak”.

Fourteen years later, Edith (now played by Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring author at odds with the prevailing attitudes of late Victorian society.

An impecunious British baronet called Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) visits Buffalo, New York to seek funding for his clay extraction machine.

Edith’s ageing father Sir Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) refuses to finance the contraption, but he is powerless to stop his daughter falling under Sir Thomas’ spell.

They marry and move to Sharpe’s crumbling ancestral home, Allerdale Hall in Cumberland.

An imposing portrait of Thomas’ mother hangs on one wall.

“I like to think that she can see us from up there,” smiles Thomas’ enigmatic sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who also resides at the ramshackle mansion.

As Edith acclimatises to her surroundings, she stumbles unwittingly upon dark secrets.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Edith’s childhood companion Dr Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) grows suspicious of Sir Thomas.

If looks were everything, then Crimson Peak would be one of the year’s best, especially in lustrous IMAX.

Once you unbutton the picture’s exquisite artistry and glimpse beneath the brocade, it becomes apparent how gossamer thin the plot strands are that hold together this two-hour spectacle.

Wasikowska captures the naivete and resilience of her independent woman, who only fully understands the despicable ulterior motives of Hiddleston and Chastain’s creepy siblings when it is too late.

Chastain has the meatier role of the two and embraces her character’s warped obsessiveness with aplomb.

Hunnam’s rival suitor is more of a plot device rather than a fully fledged protagonist and remains in the moth-ravaged background.

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10

Talitha Bateman as Janice.

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