Tom Hiddleston and Guillermo del Toro is a combination that I found irresistible, and Crimson Peak caught my attention from the moment I’ve heard about it’s production. While I found Pacific Rim disappointing, I firmly believe that Guillermo del Toro is at his best when he stick to a character driven story. Preferably with fairy tales and ghost sprinkled on top, like Pan’s Labyrinth. So I saw Crimson Peak as another masterpiece in the making, and maybe that’s why I expected too much.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer, and she appear to be a hopeless romantic at heart despite her strong veneer. So of course she fell for the mysterious handsome stranger Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) instead of her childhood friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam).
With her father’s (Jim Beaver) untimely death, Edith decided to pack and leave for England with Thomas and his sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), forgetting her ghost-mother warning: Beware of Crimson Peak.
First of all, I understand why Edith would pick Thomas over Alan. Not because Tom Hiddleston is a better eye candy, but because Alan McMichael is such a plain goody two shoes that you know from his very first entrance that he would be boring. Compared to a courteous but enigmatic stranger who offer mystery and thrill, well, the battle is lost, really. In a huge landslide. The thing is, I had rather hope that Crimson Peak would bear more resemblance to the Sharpes instead of Alan. So I was disappointed to be proven wrong. For a character driven movie, Crimson Peak had far too weak and plain characters. The only one with hidden depth is Lucille, because the others are just chess pieces with assigned color and position. Mia Wasikowska’s Edith is the most profound example. Despite being set as a smart woman, she comes off as pretentious and desperate to be different than her pompous air-headed peers. She lack the conviction though, and I found her aggravating because she try so hard to be charming and sassy when she’s just another naive crybaby. Although if that is what they actually going for here, then they did a pretty good job. Because Wasikowska nailed the whole frail and aloof get up. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but she gave the same vibe as she did in Alice in Wonderland. And while it fit in the narrative, I found it tiring to watch a movie driven by a bumbling character who hold no appeal and I couldn’t care less about. At least Charlie Hunnam was convincing with his wholesome protagonist pitch as Alan. I would like to paint him in the same light as Edith, but I can’t. He maybe that second-best choice you’ll put in the bleachers, but he was so driven it would be impossible not to notice him and at least extend a liking to him. Plus, he turns out not to be as bad as he appear to be, he was quite okay. Alan and Edith would still make a good boring pair with white picket fence, though.
The Sharpes, on the other hand, is such a stark contrast to the fair haired Americans. They’re the perfect embodiment of mysterious strangers, the kind that would caught your eyes from the moment they walk in. You knew that there is something wrong with them, but you can’t pin it down and wound up being drawn closer to find out until you’re in too deep. They were fascinating to watch with their guarded manner and layers of secret. Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe is both gentle and desperate, two evident traits as he charm his way to Edith’s heart and work to keep everything under wrap. The best thing though, is how he could be so damn complicated. I peg him for just another sinister guy pretending to be good for the sake of money, but turns out he really does have a gentle personality. Then he made me think that it was all just an act before turning it all upside down again. Not to mention he have such fragility and old sadness, like someone who have seen far too many evil and have no idea how to get away from it. He stole my heart and the fact that Tom Hiddleston could managed to look good all the freaking time from all possible camera angle is not helping my cause. However, the true star of the show is Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe. I have a soft spot for someone who are evil just because they could be, because they tasted the thrill and could not stop. She was perfect as a sinister woman who isn’t just imposing but also undeniably lost. There’s just something beautiful about her madness, her desperation, and her possessiveness – about how love engulf her and twisted her into her current self. Honestly, Jessica Chastain and her performance alone made this movie more than worth watching. Lucille was also a very nice break after her two previous characters as a stubborn daughter who throw tantrum or an astronaut who were almost too plain. Yes, she was strong, fierce and determined like her two aforementioned characters. But as Lucille, she is both graceful and deadly, a combination that I’m a total sucker for.
Still, Crimson Peak harbor more flaws. The story started out cliche but just tight enough to string me along, but somewhere in the middle it got lost. Which was such a shame because the ending, the countless layers of lies and deceptions, were actually really good and breathtaking. But the lack of build up made them felt hollow and it gave me no profound satisfaction or earth-shattering surprise when del Toro revealed them to me. Simply put, there were too many secrets and not enough hint. And then there’s the ghost. Don’t get me wrong, I could relate with Guillermo del Toro when he said that Crimson Peak is not a ghost story – it’s a gothic romance story with ghost. Something that Edith seems to be very keen on applying to her own story. And I share his sentiment, because Crimson Peak is a tale of misplaced romance and intricate affair. The ghost are just there to adds to the thrill – and because such tale is not complete without a ghost or two. That, or because the ghost is a proper ex-machina to move the plot along.
It’s rare to find such helpful ghost, you know. Which, in a way, is why I feel a bit baffled by them. Rather than an integrated part of the story and ambience, the ghost felt like something that del Toro insist on having even if they’re not that well polished yet. And it greatly diminished their meaning.
So Crimson Peak could have been a lavish cautionary tale about the lure of stranger and safety of home. It still is a beautiful tale of romance, about how destructive and twisted love can be. But it felt like someone who isn’t comfortable in his own skin, like she was given a much too expensive dress and is trying too hard to mold herself to be something that suit said dress. It just doesn’t feel right. Even if it was such an eye-pleasing journey, because one thing that Guillermo del Toro never failed to bring is grace and life. Crimson Peak is not a horror movie, nor is it a masterpiece like Pan’s Labyrinth. Yet I’d still watch this all over again just to admire the horrifying beauty the movie so nicely embodied. Even the ghosts are beautiful instead of scary, and ain’t that swell. Also, here’s a middle finger to Indonesian LSF for censoring those naked Hiddleston scene. My fangirl heart could – and honestly yearn to – handle that, thank you very much.
Director: Guillermo del Toro. Writers: Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins. Released date: 16 October 2015. Casts: Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam.