Crimson Peak Review

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most famed directors to come out of South America. With hits such as Hellboy (1 and 2), Cronos, Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, the man from Mexico has a series of excellent, auteur-driven hits under his belt. Does Crimson Peak follow in his older work and stand out amongst the others in theatres?

Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnman and is directed by Guillermo Del Toro. When Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) marries Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), he takes her to live at his family home in Crimson Peak, where strange happenings from the past haunt the family house.

The story of Crimson Peak is set during the turn of the 20th century, and it feels very much like a pulp novel from the same time. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which gets name dropped within the first two minutes), The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Wuthering Heights, Crimson Peak owes a debt to each of them, melding several ideas from different sources to create a new film. It’s very old-style horror, so no loud-bang jump scares are in the film. The horror is suggested and rarely glimpsed, which may put off a few viewers who want their horror to be viewed and visceral. It’s a slow start, with the horror only really coming in around the halfway mark, but after the slow beginning, Crimson Peak really brings some of the best horror of the Halloween season.

Mia Wasikowska does an alright job as Edith, a woman getting increasingly scared and sick at staying in the old house, even though her dialogue hardly changes from whispers and whimpers. Tom Hiddleston plays his usual British self, and seems to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his role now he’s not shackled to the 12A rating of a Marvel property. But the stand out is an almost unrecognisable Jessica Chastain as Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille. Chastain, like her on-screen brother, is having fun as the quiet but menacing Lady Lucille, and once act three starts and the house lets loose the horrors of the past, Chastain kicks her performance into high gear, with a brilliant final set piece set against the white snow daubed with blood red soil.

The red on white finale is one of the spectacular sets of the film, but Crimson Peak is full of standout moments. Tom Hiddleston remarks early on (and in the trailer) that the house atop Crimson Peak is alive, and through sweeping and tracking shots in the house we see something akin to Shadow Of The Colossus or Del Toro’s earlier work, Pan’s Labyrinth, as the house starts to breathe, move and even bleed. The missing roof allows the snow and leaves to continually flutter through and collect in the main hall, adding to the effect that the house is more one with nature than something that has been built. All these extraordinary sets add up together to make Crimson Peak one of the most visually striking films of the year.

My only complaint of the film would be one I touched on earlier, namely that the film takes a while to get going and the film is almost halfway through until it actually gets to Crimson Peak. I know this is in the style of the novels that inspired the story, but the film really does faff about with story points that don’t really add anything to character or narrative. Don’t mistake that for the film being overlong, it fits it’s running time well, but these scenes really could have added some back-story to the characters or lore to the world.

All in all, Crimson Peak is another cracker of a film for Guillermo Del Toro. While it’s slow start and lack of modern horror tropes might turn a few off, if you go with it you’ll get one of the most fantastical film this year. If you choose to watch any film in the cinema this Halloween, let it be Crimson Peak.

Score: 8/10 A good, old-fashioned ghost story from one of the genre greats.

Regression Review

October is here (unless you are reading this at a different time of the year, it is the internet after all), and with it come a slew of films that want to be the one that you sit down to watch to get into the Halloween spirit. Several films are running for the top spot this year, including Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (no seriously, that’s its name) or Mexican horror master Guillermo Del Toro’s new film Crimson Peak, as well as Regression, the newest film from horror director Alejandro Amenabar, famous for the critically acclaimed The Others back in 2001. Despite a fourteen year gap, does Amenabar still have the horror touch?

Regression stars Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson and David Thewlis and is directed by Alejandro Amenabar. Detective Bruce Kenner (Hawke) is dragged into sinister occurrences involving satanic cults and human sacrifices, when a father confesses to abusing his teenage daughter (Watson) but has no recollection of committing the act.

The acting is a mixed bag. Ethan Hawke plays Bruce Kenner as a simple police officer, trying to do the best for the community he works in. As the film progresses we see him sink deeper and deeper in the conspiracy that could be around any corner, scratching away at his veil of calmness until he is almost a nervous wreck. David Thewlis seems to be having a fun time being psychologist Professor Raines, even though most of his dialogue seems to revolve around sighing and stroking his beard. Everyone else though feels rather caricatured, with Emma Watson seeming to do nothing but cry and whimper (in an unconvincing American accent). The rest of the small town’s inhabitants fare a little better, as their stilted acting has a semblance of the uncanny about it, giving Regression an off-kilter charm.

While the story is an original script from Amenabar, Regression feels like a collection of lots of other films and TV shows. There are elements of Twin Peaks, Silent Hill and a healthy dose of the first season of True Detective, down to the grim tone, rural surroundings and evil cults that prey on the younger citizens. Despite this, Amenabar manages to rework these overused tropes into a very taut tale of paranoia and debauchery, peeling back the mask of civilised country towns to reveal the dark corners of society.

The film starts of fairly slow and rather formulaic, as the film just potters around with police procedures and other fairly un-engaging activities on screen. Thankfully the film does pick up as the actual investigation gets underway. This is the main meat of the film, and the scares and great moments of tension seems to just start pouring out, as if Regression was trying to hold them all in during the introduction before finally letting them go. There are some excellent scary scenes here, with a standout being Kenner listening to a description of a black mass, while he pictures it on screen for us to watch. It’s intense and builds to a terrifying and gruesome finale including scenes of a human sacrifice and cannibalism.

One great thing that I love about the scares in Regression is that almost none of them are of the loud-bang variety. Each one has a build up, the tension mounting as the main character of the scene makes their way closer to the danger, with Amenabar milking the suspense for all it’s worth before finally revealing the “monster” to his character. We rarely get to see the thing that terrifies the characters, rather we watch their reaction and their futile attempts to escape. This is a great feature of Regression, where we terrify ourselves because we don’t know what is chasing the characters, scaring ourselves with what our imagination creates as a stand in.

However, the major problem that Regression has is it’s ending. With the films use of creepy subject matter, I was hoping to see a giant finale involving something akin to the ending of The Wicker Man, with Kenner finally stumbling upon a ritual or cult meeting, rather than just having nightmares about being forced into one of their ceremonies. But no, Regression ends in the most unsatisfying way, which left me thinking “REALLY? That’s how you are going to end it?” For all the great tension the film had built up over the past hour and a half, the ending demolishes any way that the film could have ended with an impact. Sadly all we get is a small amount of text at the end to try and defend the reasons why Regression ended like it did.

In conclusion, Regression has some really good scares and creepy imagery, but all that promise just gets thrown out the window when the ending pops out of nowhere with a completely different mindset from the rest of the film.

Score: 5/10 Had the potential, but not the power to see it through.