Thursday, October 13, 2016

Theory Thursday: "Crimson Peak" is Underrated

Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Mia Wasikowska celebrates her 27th birthday on Friday.
Theory: Crimson Peak is underrated.

When conceptualizing an entry for this week's post, I hit a few dead ends. I could do a piece in honor of The Accountant as to why I think Casey is the better Affleck (or why Anna Kendrick is overrated). Yet I didn't feel enthusiastic enough to put my thoughts down. I needed something more tangible. Even with Certain Women, I found myself in a hole since I've already written the necessary "Kristen Stewart is Underrated" post. So, what "controversial" opinions could I possibly have? Well, I decided to start looking at birthdays. Soon enough, I discovered that Mia Wasikowska's birthday was this Friday. It was then that I began to know what I wanted to write.

To cut to the chase, I think that Wasikowska is one of the greatest actresses under 30. How could she not be with a resume that includes: Stoker, Jane Eyre, The Double, Only Lovers Left Alive, Tracks, The Kids Are All Right, and Lawless. Most actors would kill for a resume that strong (especially before 30) though admittedly not as high profile. She is deceptively charismatic to the point that it's a shame that she's likely better known for her less than stellar blockbuster work in Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Both are cynical and hollow additions to Disney's already cynical and hollow belief that turning everything formerly animated into a live action spectacle will solve any and all problems. Wasikowska is fine in them, but it's halfway through either than you understand why Lewis Carroll's work should never be adapted with computers or mediocre screenwriters.

Yet there is one *bigger* film that is worthy of some acclaim: director Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak. The film was released last year to middling reviews and even more middling box office returns. I held off seeing it because I felt burned by del Toro's previous film Pacific Rim. It was a massive garbage fire, and one that makes me reconsider the "genius" work that I felt like del Toro had done before. I would be the first to throw him under the bus for Pacific Rim, especially since it is getting a supposed sequel. I hate that film to the point that I was months behind when it finally came to seeing Crimson Peak. Considering that I didn't post an initial review even then, let's just say that I cam away largely impressed.

Like most people, I turn to del Toro for the aesthetic. To go through his catalog is to see inspired choices in The Devil's Backbone, Pan's Labyrinth, and even Hellboy. If his stories weren't good, his visuals were beyond that. He created worlds that felt lived in, eventually mixing practical effects with CGI animation. To me, Crimson's Peak is that return to form with a story that may be a bit confounding, but it's hard to argue with the execution. It is a haunted house story with ghosts and some of the most violent shots of snow imaginable. There was a visceral energy to it that made me think that maybe, just maybe, del Toro would be back and in good enough form to deliver art for the masses.

It does help that Crimson Peak relies heavily on a blend of two classic genres: horror and romanticism. On one level, it is a stylized costume drama with elegant outfits worn by every major character. The interiors match the luxurious appearance of the central cast. Likewise, the lighting and occasional cinematography are allowed to dip into an archaic type of horror that relies on ghosts and mystery. It's a visual delight that feels like the director is pushing himself in interesting directions. He is fusing two genres that make a classic fairy tale scenario, admittedly with more perversity and violence. To watch the film with the sound off is to get lost in the beautiful design of every last detail. To watch it with the sound on is to notice that del Toro should be making more mainstream fantasy films like this instead of, *shivers*, Pacific Rim.

It does help that at the center of the cast is Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston. Each bring their own charisma to the film, eventually delving into something heightened, sexual, horrifying, and splendid. There's a classical sense to everything, even if the techniques do have the occasional modern tweak. Each character has a splendid moment in which they shine and elevate the silly material into scary stuff. If one is going for sheer terror, then Crimson Peak is more than likely to disappoint. If one goes for innovation and deeper resonance, then del Toro elevates this fantasy story into art. It is far from his best work (Pan's Labyrinth), but how often do American studios release films like Crimson Peak? Del Toro is a bit of an auteur in this respect, filling the gap left by the increasingly generic Tim Burton. He still knows how to grab the viewer and stimulate.

Considering that October is also Halloween time, it isn't too bizarre to suggest for readers to give this a chance. It may not be this exceptional and hidden masterpiece, but I do think that it definitely deserves more credit. It is horror as more than your generic throwaway jump scares. It juxtaposes it with the classic horror and romantic period pieces that Hollywood used to produce with more efficiency. Considering that Wasikowska also is good in it, I would like to believe that her mainstream career be based more off of this than Alice in Wonderland. It won't happen, but I would imagine that those accepting the innovation and beauty of Crimson Peak will come away with a deeper appreciation for the craft and hopefully understand why Wasikowska is one of the great young actresses - especially in the undeserved "Not Oscar nominated" camp.

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