HOT Day 11: Crimson Peak

MV5BNTY2OTI5MjAyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkzMjQ0NDE@._V1_UY1200_CR64,0,630,1200_AL_Spoiler alert:  Run, don't walk, to see Crimson Peak, then come back for this mildly spoiler-ific post. I’ve written before about CGI effects versus practical effects and my preference for the latter, in most cases. So when I saw initial trailers for Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak and took note of what looked like computer-generated ghosts scratching walls with their spidery fingers and scaring the shit out of Mia Wasikowska, I admit I was a little worried. The movie looked lush and Gothic and scary, but I was put off by what I thought would end up being fake-looking, cheesy ghouls.

Crimson Peak’s ghosts are CGI, as it turns out — and they’re also not CGI. From Bustle:

[T]he Crimson Peak ghosts are especially scary and are also unlike anything seen in a movie before.

How they were created is a fascinating process. Most of the time these days, Hollywood ghosts are created using either actors in makeup or CGI effects, but Crimson Peak's ghouls utilize both techniques. In order for his ghosts to feel as real as possible while still maintaining an other-worldly appearance, del Toro opted to use real actors on set with make-up, according to IGN, acting out their scenes with the film's stars. Then, in post-production, the actors were overlaid with digital effects, giving them an added level of intangibility and distinct smoke-like trails.

I don’t think the results of del Toro’s innovative technique hit exactly the mark he hoped for; I, for one, felt the ghosts still looked too slick. But they also look cool, and more importantly, they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the movie, the way that some disappointing computer effects have in the past (I’m looking at you, hair-pulling ghost from Paranormal Activity 3).

Screen-shot-2015-02-13-at-1.04.42-PM-620x400This might be due, in part, to the fact that while I found it scary (whereas some critics did not), Crimson Peak isn’t really a ghost story. “The ghosts are a metaphor,” says the protagonist, a writer named Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), when she describes her latest story. The same is true for the actual ghosts that will come to haunt her when she marries Tom Hiddleston’s Thomas Sharpe, a dashing baronet who, of course, has a dark past. Del Toro effectively deploys his spirits to frighten and instigate uneasiness, but the real action of the movie comes from its living characters’ desires and secrets. Be afraid of the ghouls who haunt the halls of Allerdale Hall; be more afraid of the deteriorating home’s master and mistress.

Jessica-Chastain-in-Crimson-PeakSpeaking of the mistress:  This may be one of Jessica Chastain’s best performances (and I like her in virtually every role she’s played so far in her career). She is cool and forbidding right up until the point when she becomes completely unhinged, and her climactic scene is horrifying and wonderful. Wasikowska is also excellent, stubborn and determined but also fragile and flawed — both women have meaty, well-rounded roles, which is a welcome change in a time when actresses are lamenting the shameful (continued) lack of decent roles for women. (There was a brief moment when I became convinced that Edith was going to be relegated to a damsel-in-distress role, and I think I might have audibly sighed — until the tables were turned, much to my happy relief.) Also welcome is the way Edith Cushing as a writer is portrayed; she’s not a modern novelist, but she comes closer to representing what it’s actually like to be a writer than most portrayals I’ve seen on t.v. or in the movies.

To top it all off, Crimson Peak is gorgeous, with one of the most original settings I can crimson-peakremember seeing recently; Allerdale Hall is a kind of mad house, in the sense that Shirley Jackson’s Hill House was mad — it is a living organism, in its way, and it is not a sane one.


Additional Reading:

  • Devin Faraci of Birth.Movies.Death. didn't find Crimson Peak very scary. I think he's wrong, but I still like his review.
  • I also really enjoyed Sheila O'Malley's review on Roger, where she talks quite a bit about the older films del Toro references as well as how his visual style permeates the movie.
  • And one more review, this one from The Nerdist's Clarke Wolfe, who talks about the roles of women in Crimson Peak.
  • We Are Still Here might be Fulci as fuck, but Crimson Peak is Gothic as hell. And Vulture very kindly gave us all a Gothic primer (or as a companion to the film.