DirectorGuillermo Del Toro
Release Date(s)2015 (February 9, 2016)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
Crimson Peak was released in 2015 to middling reviews and an unsatisfactory box office intake. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it tells the story of a young woman named Edith (Mia Wasikowska) who is haunted by ghosts, feeling the need to write stories about them. After falling in love with and marrying a clay-mining aristocrat named Thomas (Tom Hiddleston), she moves with him and his unusual sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to his dilapidated home in England. Their house is not only falling apart due to the red clay seeping through the structure and Thomas’ new invention digging it out of the Earth below it, but is also haunted with ghosts wandering the corridors and attempting to warn Edith of an unseen danger.
There are several things that Crimson Peak does very well, and I’ll start with those as I have other things to say about it otherwise. While most would perceive it to be a period horror film (which it does carry elements of), it’s actually a gothic romance. One may also may be quick to compare it to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it’s just as easy to make comparisons to the Italian horror films of yesteryear from directors such as Mario Bava. Simply put, it’s one of the most colorful films I’ve seen in quite some time. In today’s world, most horror-related films have had most of the color sucked out of them via heavy digital color grades or they’re just executed with a dark, minimalist style. Crimson Peak is the total opposite of that, and is rich with strong primaries, but also yellows, browns, blacks, and whites. Not only that, but as per usual with Del Toro’s work, everything on set has been meticulously designed. Most horror fans might also notice nods to The Changeling, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and perhaps others that I didn’t catch. So it’s an absolutely lush and visually-engaging presentation in its look, aesthetic, atmosphere, wardrobe, and set design while also carrying allusions to great horror masterworks of the past.
But that’s where Crimson Peak’s real strong points end. For as much as I appreciate and admire Guillermo Del Toro’s work, it does tend to lack in the story and character department most of the time. Crimson Peak is no exception to this. It can also be a bit of a conundrum for some people because so few mainstream filmmakers these days go so aggressively after a very specific idea and look for their films; it’s something not just to be commended, but appreciated and celebrated. Yet at the same time, the stories told within these beautiful confines are never as interesting as their visuals, and they pale by comparison.
What Crimson Peak truly lacks is a compelling story. It’s less concerned with that and, in my opinion, you can’t really have it both ways. Story-wise, it’s nothing that we haven’t really seen before either. It’s so predictable that if you’re any kind of a movie fan, you’ll likely guess the twists and turns long before they happen. And that’s not even counting the performances. Aside from Jessica Chastain’s, they’re mostly mediocre, save for Mia Wasikowska’s performance, which is blank at times and just terrible at others. She doesn’t fit into her role as snuggly as she should. I personally felt while watching it that she and Jessica Chastain should have traded characters as Mia seems to be much more befitting of Jessica’s character anyway, and vice versa.
However, I can’t write off this movie entirely, and I have a feeling I’ll appreciate it more upon further viewings. It’s more of a visual experience than anything, and Guillermo Del Toro knows how to craft a sumptuous visual feast with interesting ideas laid in, that much is clear. But when it comes to his stories and his characters, they tend to be more of a detriment than anything. I would have approved of Crimson Peak’s slow-moving plot had it been a little more satisfying with more interesting characters, but when all is said and done, I wouldn’t consider it a failure as a film by any stretch of the imagination. It may not be strong enough narratively to warrant its visual prowess, but it will ultimately leave you feeling a bit unfulfilled. And with a movie that looks as good as this one does, it deserves better.
Universal’s Blu-ray release of Crimson Peak features a remarkably strong presentation. As noted, the film has a very distinctive look, and any flaws it contains, such as crushed blacks, are absolutely intended as part of that look. So I won’t be striking marks against it for anything inherent in the original photography. That said, this is a gorgeous high definition presentation. Shot digitally, it is ripe with fine detail. The colors, of course, are amazing, and although skin tones tend to change due to the aggressive colors, it’s also another aspect built into the film’s intended look. Black levels are extremely deep, and both brightness and contrast levels are perfect. There are no signs of digital sharpening or augmentation, nor are there signs of any other anomalies. It’s a beautiful transfer, all said and done. The audio options have some variety to them, including English 7.1 DTS-X, English 2.0 DTS-X for headphones, Spanish & French 5.1 DTS, and an English 2.0 DVS audio track. As I noted in my review of Ex Machina, DTS-X is a new audio format intended to be object-based rather than relying on speaker placement. I happily discovered with Crimson Peak that the DTS-X track also doubles as a 7.1 DTS-HD track, which is good because I don’t have the ability to use this channel otherwise. All channels are fine choices, but this track is by far the best for a terrific surround sound presentation. Dialogue is mostly front and center, save for the few times when it’s mixed to other speakers for effect. The same goes for sound effects with the score bringing up the rear speakers with some impressive fidelity. Spatial activity is all over the place, with events going from speaker to speaker with some frequency. Ambience and LFE also play an important role in help giving the old house a lot of its creaky, guttural qualities. Overall, it’s a perfect presentation both visually and aurally. There are also subtitles included in English SDH, Spanish, and French for those who might need them.
There’s also some very good extra material on this disc, as well. There’s an audio commentary with co-writer and director Guillermo del Toro; a set of five deleted scenes; an I Remember Crimson Peak four-part featurette (The Gothic Corridor, The Scullery, The Red Clay Mines, The Limbo Fog Set); six additional featurettes (A Primer on Gothic Romance, The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak, Hand Tailored Gothic, A Living Thing, Beware of Crimson Peak, Crimson Phantoms); a paper insert with a Digital HD code; and a DVD copy of the film. And while the disc opens with a set of trailers for other movies, Crimson Peak’s trailers and TV spots are noticeably absent.
I know I’ve probably bitched myself into a corner on this one, but I couldn’t help but feeling like Crimson Peak needed more than just pretty for pretty’s sake. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but appreciate it. I have a feeling that most will look past its flaws and enjoy much more than I did, and more power to them for it. They certainly can’t go wrong with the presentation found on this Blu-ray release. Even if you end up not liking the movie, you won’t be able to deny that’s a visual and sonic delight. Despite my bit of negativity, I still highly recommend that you check it out.
- Tim Salmons