CGB Review of Crimson Peak (2015)

Beware of my review of Crimson Peak!

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Crimson Peak is a movie that I have been looking forward to all year.  It tells the story of Edith Cushing, an aspiring writer who is swept off her feet by London aristocrat Thomas Sharpe.  Once she becomes Mrs. Sharpe, Edith moves to London to live in Allerdale Hall with Thomas and his sister Lucille.  However, a house as old and decrepit as Allerdale Hall is bound to be riddled with secrets written in blood.
This is the latest film from Gulliermo del Toro, the creator of my all-time favorite film Pan’s Labyrinth.  Since PL, Del Toro took a step back from creating gothic stories of his own and turned his attention to being a producer of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) and Book of Life (2014), as well as directing the second Hellboy film (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013).
After a few days of prayer and going over my review notes, I have come to the conclusion that Crimson Peak is a visually stunning canvas that highlights Del Toro’s strengths, as well as his two major weaknesses.

The Hits
A few months ago, I learned that Del Toro actually had the mansion built and even used his own salary to keep it from being demolished.  His dedication is on full display. Allerdale Hall is the personification of horrific secrets.  Red clay oozes through the house like a silenced prisoner struggling to break free.  A gaping hole in the ceiling allows leaves and snow to fall to the floor, symbolizing the tears of the past victims of Allerdale.  Creaking staircases, a rickety elevator and a lower level with blood decorating the walls create an atmosphere of death’s final sting. Del Toro’s vision of Allerdale is a nightmare fully alive.
During the second act, there are three sequences where Edith wanders the house to investigate.  The danger here is that the scenes can become repetitive, but luckily the movie doesn’t fall into this trap.  Each exploration scene contains new information on the ghosts that haunt Thomas and Lucille’s home.  Edith discovers something different, making the three sequences feel purposeful.
The assembled cast is excellent.  Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain have a terrifying chemistry as brother and sister, while Mia Wasikowska carries the film with sharp intellect and vulnerability.  During production, Del Toro gave each actor a ten-page biography of their character, and it shows in their performances. Unlike a certain film that I reviewed recently where indecisive directing resulted in confused performances (I’m looking at you, Pan!), everyone knows exactly who they are and how to convey their characters’ motivations to the audience.

The Misses
I mentioned earlier that Del Toro has two major weaknesses that are clear as day in this film.
In my Pan’s Labyrinth review, I pointed out that there is a major continuity error that occurs after Ofelia completes the first task.  It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it does show that Del Toro needs more practice on bridging continuity gaps.
In Crimson Peak, there is one major narrative flaw that is concerning. Edith’s ability to see ghosts is not the reason Thomas marries her, nor is it the reason why [SPOILER] Lucille wants her dead.
This is a problem because Edith’s special gift and her relationship with the Sharpes are the two most important elements of the story.  If these two components have nothing to do with each other, if the story could go on without one of these two plot points (in this case, the ghost-whispering thing), then something is wrong with the story structure. The second narrative weakness is that Del Toro is not good at plot twists.  My friends and I could correctly guess the “twist” long before the third act’s big reveal.  I mean, Guillermo, you made Pan’s Labyrinth HOW long ago (2006) and you still don’t know how to properly connect gaps in your story?

Crimson Peak is a fascinating gothic romance that pays homage to the genre.  At the same time, it also shows eyebrow-raising missteps that would concern any Del Toro fan.  Here’s to the hope that good-ole Guillermo catches his own mistakes and works on improvement for future features.

Bonus Features: Pan’s Labyrinth Callbacks (SPOILERS ahead)
Sometimes directors will use symbols and images in a current film to refer to a previous film that they made.  I figured that Pan’s fans like myself would enjoy these callback trinkets.

  1. Crimson Peak opens with Edith staring into the camera while holding up her bloodied hand, which is similar to Pan’s Labyrinth prologue.
  2. The majority of the nighttime scenes are shot with a turquoise color palate and not the traditional midnight-blue color palate.
  3. Edith’s father uses the exact same razor that Captain Vidal uses during his [Vidal’s] character-defining shaving scene.  Also the mirror he uses is Vidal’s shaving mirror.
  4. The wheelchair that Edith uses towards the end of the first act looks oddly identical to Carmen’s wheelchair in PL.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us.

CGB Review of Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno (1,000 likes special!)

So when the Catholic Girl Bloggin’ Facebook page hit 1,000 likes, I knew I had to do something special to celebrate.  I decided to do a review of my favorite movie of all time.

This is my review of Pan’s Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno!

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Pan’s Labyrinth opens with a fairy tale about Princess Moanna, the daughter of the king of the underworld.  One day she escapes from the underworld and enters the human world.  The minute the sunlight touches her eyes, she is blinded and all memory of her time as royalty is forgotten.  She lives among the mortals until sickness claims her life.  Her father believes that her spirit will one day find its way home.
Fast-forward to post-Civil War Spain in 1944; a young girl named Ofelia and her pregnant mother Carmen have moved to the countryside to live with Ofelia’s new stepfather Captain Vidal.  Lonely and isolated, Ofelia seeks refuge in the mill’s abandoned labyrinth, where she comes across a Faun who tells her that she is Princess Moanna and that in order to return to the underworld, she must complete three tasks before the full moon rises.

Guys and gals, I’ve been wanting to review this movie for a very long time.  I love this movie to pieces.  I discovered it six years ago and I’ve watched it 20 times ever since.  This movie was a turning point in my life and really changed my outlook on storytelling, so I have a lot to say about this gem.

The Hits
If you want to see some quality acting, look no further.  Every actor in this movie is exceptional; even the supporting characters give great performances!
Ivana Baquero plays Ofelia/Princess Moanna and she is wonderful.  A lover of fairy tales who finds comfort in her books, Ofelia is a lonesome innocent trapped in the brutal world of her stepfather’s mill.   Ofelia was originally written as an 8-year old, but 11-year old Baquero impressed Guillermo del Toro so much that he made revisions to the script so that he could cast Baquero, which was a wise decision in my opinion.  She looks young enough to still be reading fairy tale books, but is also old enough to be going on perilous quests.
Ariadna Gil plays her mother Carmen, who is sedated for a good chunk of the movie.  I like that the movie makes her a grounded, world-weary adult instead of villifying her for dismissing Ofelia’s obessesion with fairy tales.   Maribel Verdu is warm and empathetic as Mercedes, a housekeeper/revoluntionary who is conspiring with a group of rebels to take down Captain Vidal.
The most impressive performance comes from Sergei Lopez as Captain Vidal. What makes him stand out is that he is actually a comedic actor in his native Catalonia and producers had warned Del Toro that he might not fit the role of Vidal.  Lopez has said, “He [Vidal] is the most evil character I’ve ever played in my career.”  He’s right on the money because Captain Vidal is one sadistic son of a gun.  A cold and deranged fascist who is addicted to violence, Captain Vidal rules the mill with an iron fist that has been heated by the flames of Hell.
This movie came out in 2007, yet the special effects have aged gracefully.  The creatures are brilliantly designed and feel like unique monsters, especially the Pale Man (that guy with eyes on his hands).  I love that the fairies have earth-tone skin with leaf wings.  A lot of the scenes take place at night, so the use of midnight turquoise lighting instead of midnight blue makes it easy to see all that’s going on. Oh, and did I mention that the music is a hypnotic, melancholic lullaby that will haunt your ears long after the credits roll?

The Misses
No film is perfect.  As much as I praise this movie to high Heaven, there are some drawbacks.
I’ve always felt that Ofelia is not connected enough to the violence that surrounds her.  There’s never a scene where she witnesses her stepfather committing a violent act.  Yes, there’s a scene where Captain Vidal murders a man and his grown son, but Ofelia is absent from this scene.  I’m not saying that I would’ve preferred having her shoehorned into a scene where she’s not needed, but still, her disconnect has always been a problem for me.
There’s one major continuity error that if CinemaSins ever did an “Everything Wrong with Pan’s Labyrinth” video, they would pick up on it.
Also it’s sort of a SPOILER, so…SPOILER ALERT in 3…2…1…
After Ofelia completes the first task, she has to open the Book of Crossroads to find out what the second task is.  Shades of red explode across the pages and Ofelia hears her mother gasping.  She finds her very pregnant mother bleeding profusely.  Later that night, Ofelia, who is now sleeping in the attic, is visited by the Faun who says, “You did not complete the task,” to which Ofelia responds, “No, my mother–she was sick…”
This scene has always bothered me because after she defeated the Toad in the tree and got the golden key, the Faun told her to be patient and wait for her next assignment.  The next day, Ofelia opens the Book of Crossroads and then shiz goes down with her mother.  I don’t remember the Faun telling her there was something she needed to do before the second task; he just told her to be patient.
My guess is that this problem got overlooked in the screenwriting process. Director Guillermo del Toro did a lot of the work himself; directing, screenwriting, editing, giving up his salary to avoid budget constraints, even writing the subtitles! When a project as massive as this falls on the shoulders of one person, it’s easy for something to get overlooked.

Pan’s Labyrinth will always and forever be my #1 favorite film.  It’s a dark and poetic story with well-defined characters portrayed by great actors, a beautiful musical score and stunning visuals.  It doesn’t need a sequel, a prequel or a reboot. Just let it be the gothic fairy tale that it was always meant to be.

Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us.