Guillermo del Toro /Canada USA /2015 /119 mins
Available on Blu-ray Mon 14 Jan 2019
Hollywood, California – 4th March 2018: The Shape of Water picks up four gongs at the 90th Academy Awards, two of which are big successes for its director Guillermo del Toro (Best Director and Best Picture). With these wins, alongside the reception the film received, a notion is cemented into history that the beloved Mexican filmmaker has finally made an English-Language piece which could stand toe-to-toe with his native Spanish-language films that brought him such celebrity in the first place. What this narrative excludes from the timeline however, is that del Toro had already achieved such a feat one film prior – the beautiful and marvellous Crimson Peak.
2015’s Crimson Peak details the blossoming and collapsing romance between the naïve, but wealthy Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) and the charming yet dubious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Set amongst the grand crumbling walls of Allerdale Hall, it is a film which so lovingly obsesses over dark material from years gone by that it ends up as Daphne du Maurier meets Hammer films, refreshingly without even the tiniest dose of the irony which plagues most modern horror.
Alas, such descriptors as “horror” – as well as the film’s unfortunately misguided marketing – might lead one to expect an all-out scare-fest. Such expectations (and subsequent disappointments) may account for the middling box office return and the positive, but reserved reviews the film received upon release. It’s a curse which del Toro and Matthew Robbins’ screenplay bluntly tries to exorcise early on in the film: “It’s not a ghost story…the ghost acts as a metaphor” says Edith to her father, and whilst he might not listen to her – we, the audience, should.
Awash with rich whites and golds slowly being enveloped by sickly greens and devilish reds, Crimson Peak is a gorgeous film. Del Toro uses basic and obvious colour schemes for the main characters which allows the film to tell its story and paint its themes through visual storytelling alone. Add to this, the terrific performances – especially a nefarious Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharp, who begins the film chewing the scenery with delight and ends it the human equivalent of a wailing spectre – del Toro asks everyone to go big, a direction that is met with aplomb.
Crimson Peak is a film so out of kilter with modern cinema, so desperate to be gothic art of the past, so handsomely lavish and stylised that it can’t help but flow with a charming sincerity. It might not be as scary as some of del Toro’s productions before itm and it might not be as revolutionary as the very best of his films; but it confidently, beautifully and jubilantly goes about its business. The Shape of Water won him the big awards, but it’s Crimson Peak which is the true unabashed joy in the man’s filmography.