It’s a hallmark of good reviewing that a positive notice ought to tell some readers a movie is not for them, and a negative one ought to let some know they’d like it all the same. So it is with the first reviews of Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic
horror romance “Crimson Peak,” which largely end up in the minus column but do an excellent job of making the movie sound awesome along the way. (Note: To the common complaint the movie isn’t all that scary, del Toro responds that it’s a romance, not a horror movie.) The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy may dub it “the second-best horror movie of 1946,” but when he says “No previous rendition of this sort of sexually twisted, psychologically degenerative and spectrally haunted fright story has ever been served up with so much stylistic sauce,” I’ve already bought my ticket. Other critics likewise stress the style-over-substance approach, although some approvingly compare it to Del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which, again: Sold, where do I sign?
Despite being unveiled as a secret screening at Fantastic Fest, “Crimson Peak” has been under heavy embargo — FF viewers were told they could say whether they liked the film or not, but no more — and it’s broken ahead of schedule, which means reviews are still breaking in dribs and drabs. But even though the overall verdict seems to be trending negative, fans of Del Toro’s stylish horror and bloody melodrama — a mixture that the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin subtweeted as “Daphne du Gorier” — won’t want to miss it.
Reviews of “Crimson Peak”
Peter Debruge, Variety
Even the pristine white snow bleeds bright scarlet in “Crimson Peak,” the malformed love child between a richly atmospheric gothic romance and an overripe Italian giallo — delivered into this world by the mad doctor himself, horror maestro Guillermo del Toro, operating at his most stylistically unhinged. Aflame with color and awash in symbolism, this undeniably ravishing yet ultimately disappointing haunted-house meller is all surface and no substance, sinking under the weight of its own self-importance into the sanguine muck below. Named after the estate to which Mia Wasikowska’s newly orphaned and even newlier-wed heroine unwisely relocates with a plainly duplicitous brother-sister pair, “Crimson Peak” proves too frou-frou for genre fans, too gory for the Harlequin crowd and all-around too obvious for anyone pressed to guess what the siblings’ dark secret could possibly be.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Guillermo del Toro tries his elegant best to shake the cobwebs from a musty old genre but still ends up telling a very traditional and predictable haunted house yarn in “Crimson Peak.” The gifted fantasy/sci-fi/horror specialist has made a film that’s very bloody, and bloody stylish at that, one that’s certainly unequaled in its field for the beauty of its camerawork, sets, costumes and effects. But it’s also conventionally plotted and not surprising or scary at all, as it resurrects hoary horror tropes from decades ago to utilize them in conventional, rather than fresh or subversive ways; it’s a thousand times more elaborate and sumptuous than the most recent demented domicile tale of note, “The Babadook,” but not an ounce as frightening or disturbing.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
Fans expecting wall-to-wall gut-bucket phantasmagoria may be surprised to see how much time del Toro gives to the love triangle and to the slow accumulation of the film’s creepy atmosphere. While the digital effects are undeniably contemporary, “Crimson Peak” is otherwise a period homage that mostly plays like a period film, rarely giving in to contemporary notions of pacing and payoff. When the scares do arrive, however, they’re effectively unsettling. Only once or twice does the film indulge in cheesy jump effects, where the audience flinches because of a sudden LOUD noise. Instead, you can feel the director savoring the anticipation and then resolving it skillfully and grandly. The result is del Toro’s best film since “Pan’s Labyrinth,” one that should rightly become a staple for many Halloweens to come.
Katie Rife, A.V. Club
Unsurprisingly for a Del Toro film, the production design is the real star of “Crimson Peak”; the director says his budget was $50 million, but it looks like it cost more. The attention to detail is consistently impressive, with period-accurate Victorian sets and jewel-toned lighting creating an aesthetic best described as “Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride as designed by Mario Bava.” The costumes in particular ought to attract awards-season attention, outfitting Wasikowska in white nightgowns that play up her porcelain-doll looks and Chastain in sumptuous silk and velvet. The design of the house itself and its ghostly inhabitants is equally thoughtful: Allerdale Hall is built atop a deposit of valuable red clay, for example, producing blood-red footprints in the snow, and the wispy plumes of smoke emanating from the restless spirits perfectly mimic the leaves that gently fall through a hole in the dilapidated manor’s ceiling. Against such a beautifully realized backdrop, perhaps any story would appear inadequate.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Like “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Peak” is less simple than simplistic. It wants to be an old-school Gothic horror-romance, albeit with more blood and Del Toro’s usual yen for face woundings, but its story often only has the basic elements, as though he was a student doing only the minimum requirements on a project. It’s OK that “Crimson Peak” isn’t scary, as the melancholy is always overpowering. Hiddleston’s Thomas can barely mask his guilt over the grim family secret, while Chastain, as is her wont, lets slip notes of self-hatred into the implacably stern Lucille. Encased in confining clothes and even a concealed body cast, she’s another of Del Toro’s sad monsters. But Wasikowska’s Edith is perhaps too much of a blank. Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins subvert the usual Gothic and horror tropes by giving her a sex life that doesn’t lead to punishment. But she’s soon turned into just another token damsel in distress. She becomes another of Del Toro’s ideas that never got past half-baked. It’s a beaut to look at and to feel, and unlike “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” — and “Hellboy II” and “Pacific Rim” — maybe that’s enough.
Russ Fischer, The Playlist
The efforts of the cast and del Toro mesh well to consistently increase the weight of secrets, doubts, and suspicions that form a connective web around these characters. Soon enough, it’s not love that connects anyone, but the sticky unresolved mysteries no one is able to walk away from. The film is one great growing crescendo, which threatens to stall out as the audience puts all the pieces together. Just when “Crimson Peak” is about to deflate, however, del Toro deploys a bit of stock-in-trade violence, and the energy crackles once again. Perhaps the unification of the director’s impulses in “Crimson Peak” isn’t quite complete after all, but as a summation of Guillermo del Toro’s style and tendencies, the film stands as more of an ur-document of his interests and personality than we have seen before.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
Hitchcock was also fond of saying “Self-plagiarism is style.” Lately, Guillermo del Toro’s been plagiarizing all the wrong parts of himself, He’s made brilliant films, but between “Crimson Peak” and 2013’s “Pacific Rim,” he seems to have moved into a phase of his career focused on design at the expense of character. The people in “Crimson Peak” feel like they’re onscreen purely out of necessity; del Toro needs somebody to creep around his spooky hallways and wear his sumptuous period clothes. If any of the people in “Crimson Peak” were even half as fleshed out as their incredibly ornat world, the film would be a masterpiece. Edith and the Sharpes’ actions don’t necessarily require more logic. But a little bit more attention to detail wouldn’t hurt.
ok then: Crimson Peak is great. Jane Eyre + Flowers in the Attic with a few splashes of bloody violence. delightfully spooky and atmospheric
— Britt Hayes, Esq. (@MissBrittHayes) October 13, 2015
Find the most positive review of Crimson Peak and then add a half-star. That’s pretty much my review. I loved it.
— Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) October 13, 2015
CRIMSON PEAK: almost a Tom McCarthy-level rebound from the disastrous Pacific Rim. CG ghosts are a crime but the rest is gorgeous gothic fun
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) September 26, 2015
CRIMSON PEAK/PACIFIC RIM would’ve been far less dull if I were a 14-year-old girl/boy. Film should be a personal expression. #fantasticfest
— Aaron Hillis (@cobblehillis) September 26, 2015