Saturday, October 31, 2015

Crimson Peak (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Crimson Peak

Grand Gru-meister Guillermo del Toro has returned to All Hallows' Eve with "Crimson Peak," a beautifully rendered tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and Hammer films. Not only is the film delicious to look at, chock full of rousing yellows, opulent oranges, scathing scarlets and sable effluvia, it also has some satisfying scares.

It is England in the year 1901. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) strives to be the next Mary Shelley and writes nightshade stories in flowing elegant handwriting. At her father's office she meets the dashingly pale and sensitive Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston)

Thomas is immediately entranced by the equally pale and breathy Edith.

There is only one catch.

Edith's father (Jim Beaver) does not care one iota for Thomas, and he cares even less for Thomas' sister, the hissing and secretive Lucile (Jessica Chastain.)

No matter. Thomas looks dreamy into Edith's eyes, rhapsodizing about the future and his new iron extraction machine.

Meanwhile, the Dad hires a detective to trail the strange and dubious Sharpes.

First off, the cinematography by Dan Laustsen is sensational with each color and setting lighting upon your eye in a delight. One is wonderfully at home as much in the pages of Edith Wharton as in Mary Shelley. The costumes swirl upon the eye like jasmine flowers from Jane Austen's garden.

There is also some appropriate anxiety in this period film about the new technologies of steam and locomotion. Sharpe's machine looks like a medieval blood letting device: iron, metal, gears and spikes feature prominently. Photography is a realm of shadows and something to fear.

Though these first devices are right out of Arthur Conan Doyle, later events are current to this millenium. There is a grisly bathroom scene recalling Kubrick's "The Shining." A David Lynch influence is also in evidence. During a summery park scene reminiscent of  Seurat's Sunday Afternoon, a horde of ants devour a group of butterflies.

Above all, however, the film is more closely akin to Lovecraft than to Jane Austen or any cerebral surrealist from our age. One Allerdale Hall sinks from the weight of an incarnadine goo, perhaps cosmic perhaps not. Ghosts and goblins turn, tumble and warn while our Alice in Weirdland, grows increasingly pale with laborious respiration.

Though the events might run a bit light for outright horror, the trappings and melodrama are perfectly eye-shutting and suspenseful. Hiddleston is a perfect incarnation of a Shelleyan Romantic while Jessica Chastain is a cimmerian menace, more moth-like than human.

This makes a welcome return to Del Toro's baroque bestiary of scarifying forms. Well-told, while hitting all of the nocturnal notes, "Crimson Peak" is a lurid valentine to the legacy of Hammer Films. In its very over-use of blood and gore, it is perhaps, a blackly comic stab at Tarrantino as much as it is a sopping red badge of personal courage.

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