DirectorGuillermo del Toro
Release Date(s)2015 (January 15, 2019)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
Crimson Peak was released in 2015 to middling reviews and an unsatisfactory box office take. 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 their dilapidated home in England. Not only is the house falling apart due to the red clay seeping into the structure and Thomas’ new invention digging it out of the Earth below, but it’s also haunted as spirits wander its dark corridors, subsequently attempting to warn Edith of an unseen danger.
There are several things that Crimson Peak does very well. While most would perceive it to be a period horror film (which it does carry elements of), it’s actually more of a gothic romance. One may also may be quick to compare it to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it’s just as easy to contrast it to the Italian horror films of yesteryear from directors like 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 films have most of the color sucked out of them via heavy digital grading, or they’re executed with a dark, minimalist style. Crimson Peak is the total opposite of that, appearing rich with strong primaries, but also yellows, browns, blacks, and whites.
As per usual with del Toro’s work, everything on the set was meticulously designed, right down to the banisters and the door knobs. Horror fans might also notice nods to The Changeling, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and perhaps others that I didn’t catch myself. In other words, it’s an absolutely lush and visually-engaging presentation in its look, aesthetic, atmosphere, wardrobe, and set design, while also making allusions to great horror masterworks of the past.
But that’s where its strong points end. As much as I appreciate and admire del Toro’s work, it does tend to lack in the story and character department sometimes. It’s a bit of a conundrum because so few mainstream filmmakers these days go so aggressively after such specific artistic ideas for their films – it’s something not just to be commended, but appreciated and celebrated. Yet at the same time, the stories told within those beautiful confines are never as interesting as their visuals, at least on surface level.
Story wise, Crimson Peak is nothing that we haven’t already seen before. It’s fairly predictable and if you’re any kind of a film fan, you’ll likely guess the twists and turns long before they occur. And that’s not even counting the performances. Aside from Jessica Chastain, they’re mostly mediocre, save for Mia Wasikowska. At times she’s blank, but at other times she’s terrible and doesn’t really fit into her role as snuggly as she should. I personally felt while watching it that she and Chastain should have traded roles as Mia seems to be much more befitting of Chastain’s character anyway, and vice versa.
When all is said and done, I don’t consider Crimson Peak to bet a failure as a film by any stretch of the imagination. It may not have a strong enough narrative to compliment its visual prowess, but it ultimately left me feeling a bit unfulfilled, craving more than what I got.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release of the film features a remarkably strong presentation, which is taken from the same master as the previous Universal Pictures Blu-ray release. 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. That said, this is a gorgeous high definition presentation. Shot digitally, it’s ripe with fine detail. Colors are amazing, and although skin tones tend to change due to the aggressive grading, it’s also another aspect of the film’s intended appearance. 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. Digital cinematography doesn’t usually lend itself to depth, but this is an exception. It’s beautiful.
Audio options include English 7.1 DTS-X, English 2.0 DTS-X for headphones, and an English 2.0 DVS audio track. All of these channels are fine choices, but the 7.1 track is by far the best for a terrific surround sound experience. Dialogue is mostly front and center, save for the few times when it’s mixed into the other speakers for effect. The same goes for sound effects with the score bringing up the rear speakers for some impressive fidelity. Spatial activity is all over the place, with events frequently going from speaker to speaker. Ambience and LFE also play an important role in help giving the old house a lot of its creaky, guttural qualities. Subtitles are also included in English SDH. It’s worth noting that the previous Universal Blu-ray also featured audio in Spanish and French 5.1 DTS, as well as subtitles in Spanish and French.
For this Limited Edition release, everything else has been brought over from the Universal Blu-ray, plus plenty of great new material. First up is an audio commentary with Guillermo del Toro; The House is Alive: Constructing Crimson Peak, a newly-edited 50-minute documentary about the making of the film, which appears to take raw interview footage of the cast and crew shot during the film’s production and presents in a more favorable fashion; and a never-before-seen 9-minute Spanish-language interview with Guillermo del Toro.
Retained material includes Allerdale Hall (formerly I Remember Crimson Peak), a featurette in four parts, all of which are roughly 4 to 6 minutes each (The Gothic Corridor, The Scullery, The Red Clay Mines, The Limbo Fog Set); A Primer on Gothic Romance, a 6-minute featurette that explores the origins of the genre; The Light and Dark of Crimson Peak, an 8-minute featurette that goes over the film’s use of color; Hand Tailored Gothic, a 9-minute featurette which covers the film’s costume design; A Living Thing, a 12-minute featurette that covers the design and construction of the Allerdale Hall set; Beware of Crimson Peak, an 8-minute tour of the set by Tom Hiddleston; and Crimson Phantoms, a 7-minute featurette about the film’s ghosts.
Also included is Kim Newman on Crimson Peak and the Tradition of Gothic Romance, a new 18-minute interview with the film historian about the gothic romance genre; Violence and Beauty in Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic Fairy Tale Films, a new 24-minute video essay by Kat Ellinger about the content of del Toro’s work and how it relates to literature and film; a set of five deleted scenes with a Play All option (The Park, Thomas’ Presentation, Father Consoles Daughter, Thomas Sees a Ghost, Lucille at the Piano); the film’s international and theatrical trailers; 2 TV spots (there were many, many more of them); and 2 image galleries featuring 18 production stills and 17 behind the scenes photos.
In the package itself is a double-sided fold-out poster; four double-sided postcards; and a 76-page hardcover insert booklet with the essays Melancholy and the Maiden: Notes on Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak by David Jenkins, A Satellite of Meaning: The Production and Costume Design of Crimson Peak by Simon Abrams, Ghost Hunter: An Interview with Guillermo del Toro by Mar Diestro-Dópido, Crimson Peak Reviewed by Kim Newman from Sight & Sound magazine, several pages of original conceptual design illustrations by Guy Davis and Oscar Chichoni, as well as transfer details. All of this is housed in beautiful and sturdy book-like packaging.
There’s no way a film fan can’t appreciate the might and majesty of Crimson Peak. It’s among Guillermo del Toro’s most beautifully-conceived and achieved film works. It may lack in certain areas, but it’s worth the price of admission as it’s practically a living work of art. Arrow Video’s Limited Edition Blu-ray of the film is a massively impressive home video release, one that fans of the film will find enormous satisfaction with. It’s a perfect presentation both visually and aurally with an array of outstanding bonus materials. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons