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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Crimson Peak

I know it's not exactly deep but as visual storytelling goes, it's hard to beat Crimson Peak.

And sorry this is so late but I've been a wee bit under this weather the past week. And a bit lazy. And yeah, this will be pretty short because, honestly, Crimson Peak is the sort of film you experience, rather than talk or read about.

Billed as Guillermo Del Toro's return to the more personal, intimate filmmaking of Pans Labyrinth and the Devil's Backbone after the bombast of Pacific Rim and Hellboy II, Crimson Peak is actually something a bit different. It's a film that in its construction is clearly incredibly personal to Del Toro (check out the wonderfully informative and funny interview that the Empire Magazine podcast did with the man himself a few weeks back) but is ultimately probably more about his love for gothic romance than anything more personally resonant.

The result is a film that is absolutely worth seeing, just as long as you don't go in expecting another Pan's Labyrinth. It's painstakingly and beautifully put together, with each and every frame a work of art. It may all be surface but with surface this damn near perfect, it's hard to complain too much. It's also certainly not the case that it's just about pretty art design for the sake of pretty art design: Del Toro makes the aesthetic of the film every bit as important to the story being told as the characters and plot. I could describe it here, but the true pleasure lies in experiencing the world of Crimson Peak for yourself without much prior knowledge. Even the trailer - which actually largely misrepresents the film as true horror when it's more of a gothic mystery/ romance that happens to feature some ghosts - should probably be avoided if at all possible.

As for the basic plot, characters, acting and script - you know, those things by which most of us judge a movie - they're actually not as important to the experience of watching Crimson Peak as is Del Toro's lovingly created world and expert storytelling acumen. Though even there, it's probably all too easy to write them off entirely but between the spectacular cast - most especially Jessica Chastain, clearly having the time of her life hamming it up as never before - and the compelling characters they play, there's enough of a baseline human presence to show that Del Toro's filmmaking is still as much about people as it is his love for worldbuilding and monsters. And, yes, the dialogue is overripe, the emotions melodramatic and the twists announce themselves with all the subtlety of a steam train but this is authentic gothic romance, after all, and these elements add to, rather than subtract from the overall experience.

I realize that I have spent almost the entirety of this quickie review seemingly apologizing for the film and that I have also not revealed a single thing about what the film is about, but, in this case at least, both are intentional. There is a lot of joy to be had from seeing how Del Toro tells its story, but the basic plot is really the least important thing about the film - it actually often is, but it's especially so here - and it's only with this understanding that you might truly appreciate what Del Toro has done here.

I adored Crimson Peak but if you want to enjoy it even half as much as me, you do need to approach the film with the correct pair of glasses. It features fine storytelling to be sure, but the real draw here is seeing a modern master making the very most of cinema as an artform. I'm still waiting for him to deliver another emotional powerhouse like Pan's Labyrinth but in the meantime I, for one, am more than happy just to sit back and watch Guillermo Del Toro play.  

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