Saturday, October 17, 2015

Visiting Crimson Peak

There are very few things that would make me get out of bed at 5.30am. The house being on fire, perhaps. Or the very first local showing of a new Del Toro film.
Someone asked me yesterday why I had to get up so very early to see Crimson Peak. The showing was at 9.20am, after all, and only 23 miles away from where we live. Unfortunately, Grant family logistics are regularly complicated by the fact that we have one car, and most of the time I don't have it. The only way to get to the cinema was to hitch a lift with my husband, and as it happens, he had a conference call with India scheduled for the same morning, at a poisonously early hour. Of course, I could have gone to a later showing of Crimson Peak, but it wouldn't have been quite the same. A new Guillermo Del Toro film is worth getting up early for.

So I, my husband and my teen daughter found ourselves setting off in darkness, and as we drove across the landscape we saw the sun coming up over the hills. We dropped off my husband at work, and as we then had some time to kill, the teen and I had breakfast in the town, to see what caffeine and carbs could do with the pair of us (answer: not very much. We still looked like the Walking Dead).
We arrived at the cinema to find that besides ourselves, there were six people in the auditorium, three of them students of Gothic Studies at the local university. I was slightly shocked that there wasn't a better turnout, even for an early showing, but secretly delighted that we had the film mostly to ourselves; when I went to see The Woman In Black it was pretty much ruined by groups of people screaming and switching on their smartphones as a kind of security blanket.
So, what did I think of the film?
The first thing I'd say is that it is one of the most visually sumptuous films I have ever seen. I'm going to see it again next week and I fully expect to notice many new things at a second viewing; in fact you could probably watch it a dozen times and pick out new and wonderful details. The costumes are simply stunning - especially the dresses of a single colour, such as the deep blue and scarlet ones worn by Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and the brilliant yellow dress worn by Edith (Mia Wasikowska). Even more impressive, though, is the backdrop to the main action of the story: Allerdale Hall, located on the "Crimson Peak" of the title, so named for its blood-red clay soil. Allerdale Hall is in some ways the hero of the story; at once grand, decayed and ominous, it is crammed with beautiful and sinister decorations, including Gothic arches that bristle with dark wooden spikes like fangs. It is  gorgeously and richly ornate, and in places disgustingly neglected (the inhabitants seem extraordinarily laissez-faire about leaving the doors open to let in the weather).
Some people who go to see the film may be expecting a "horror film" but that is not what Crimson Peak is at all; it is really a Gothic romance in the tradition of Ann Radcliffe etc. It features ghosts and some wincingly brutal moments of violence, but the film is not "about" those undeniable moments of horror. The plot covers some familiar ground: wealthy young woman is courted by a mysterious and penniless aristocrat and taken off to his remote and sinister looking mansion, where we increasingly suspect that he is up to no good. I did see one early review daring to use the word "predictable" about this, but I think that is unfair; the story is conforming to the Gothic tradition, and bringing it to brilliant life.
I thought the ghosts were excellent, although I would not have expected anything less; having seen Pacific Rim it's obvious that Del Toro is very fussy about his CGI. I never had any of those uncomfortable moments you sometimes get when it is poorly done, and you can somehow tell that what you are seeing is computer generated, even if you can't put your finger on quite why. These ghosts were convincing, sinister, and occasionally beautiful. There was also one moment in the film that was deeply M.R.Jamesian.
A friend asked me whether I thought Crimson Peak was "as good as" The Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth. I'm hard put to answer that question. The Devil's Backbone is one of my very favourite films of all time, of any type or genre. But Crimson Peak is a visual feast; I've rarely seen anything like it. Do go and see it!

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