Crimson Peak, 2015

One thing I keep saying is that I’m not a fan of horror films. This isn’t entirely true, because some of the best films I’ve seen are horror. The problem is, I just hate being scared (and I scare easily). But there are some movies I just desperately need to see and I push my worry of nightmares ,and sleeping with the lights on, aside. One of these was Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, which my friend (another self-proclaimed scaredy cat) and I vowed to watch together. During the day. We finally got around to it a couple of weeks ago. I only decided this week to do a post on the film, though, and thought publishing it on Friday the 13th might be fitting.

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I think this will be more a look at the visual aspects of the film that I loved, as I reacted to it more on that level. While I agree with many others that the plot was predictable and the story itself didn’t have much meat to it, I honestly wasn’t bothered. I often like predictable. The mood and atmosphere were more important for me in this and it fit with the Gothic horror/romance throwback del Toro was going for. It made me think particularly of Rebecca and Jane Eyre. (Granted, both are more substantial story-wise, but the influences are obviously there).

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I have a thing for lighting and the lighting in this made me want to cry it was so perfect (or, at least, perfect for my own aesthetic taste). I especially loved the scenes where yellow/orange and green light were used together (like the first image of Jessica Chastain at the top of this post and the one below). But the image directly above, with more subtle lighting, is lovely too.

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The entire design of this film is exquisite, especially the costumes (I’m planning on doing a post on the costume designer, Kate Hawley, for my Designer Spotlight series). They made me want to wear mutton sleeves and crimp my hair but I think I’d end up looking more ’80s tragic than Victorian tragedy.

Some of my favourite costumes (I’ll save the rest for that post on Kate Hawley):

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And some of my favourite interior shots:

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The set design is so important in this film and Allerdale Hall is a character in its own right, guiding the atmosphere of the second half of the film. From the red clay that seeps up through the soil, to the roof caving in, letting in light and leaves and snow, to the cluttered, dusty rooms it screams ‘Sinister!’ With its decay and bleak surroundings, it is almost the ultimate Gothic horror mansion. I’m not necessarily a sucker for haunted house stories (I’m not keen on ghosts) but I love stories set in creepy, remote mansions.

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I hadn’t read much of del Toro’s influences for Crimson Peak before watching it (though following him on twitter I got an idea) so I was glad when I read this and saw that Rebecca and Bava’s films were influences as I had felt they were while watching this.

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Jessica Chastain really stole the movie for me. She was phenomenal – I love the way she carried herself and the design of her character. I love how Lucille slowly unfolds as a character throughout the film. She definitely had some of my favourite costumes, too. Mia Wasikowska was fantastic as well, and Edith’s costumes are more obviously impressive than Lucille’s. I’m looking forward to writing all about the costumes of this film one day.

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I need to watch this again for a number of reasons, one of which is that there’s so much going on visually that it’s hard to think about it all on first viewing. Looking at these screencaps I’m already noticing a lot that I missed on first viewing but it undeniably left a deep impression on me. I should really watch more of Del Toro’s films.

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Miss Julie, 2014 (52 Films by Women #5)

Image of Jessica Chastain as Miss Julie sitting on Colin Farrell as John's lap. Miss Julie is a redhead woman in blue dress with a scoop neck. Colin Farrell is a dark-haired man wearing a tan waistcoat and white shirt. They are sitting on a chair in a 19th century kitchen in front of a lit stove.I’m falling a little behind on these write-ups but number 5 for 52 Films by Women was Miss Julie directed by Liv Ullmann. Miss Julie, based on the play by August Strindberg, takes place over the course of one night (Midsummer Night’s Eve), and has only three characters: the titular Miss Julie played by Jessica Chastain; John played by Colin Farrell and Kathleen played by Samantha Morton. This adaptation sees the story set in Ireland, rather than Sweden.

Movie still showing three people standing in a 19th century kitchen - the view shows a cabinet on the left, a doorway in the middle. The first person, a woman, is wearing a white apron and has her hands folded. The second person has her back to the camera, wearing a blue velvet jacket. The third man is wearing a waistcoat and white shirt, his hands behind his back.Class, power and social structures (and how they are changing) are explored through the emotional monologues of the three characters. The most interesting aspect is undoubtedly the raw and intense acting, and I think it will be too ‘slow’ for anyone not invested in that.

Movies like this can be hit or miss for me, but I found Miss Julie engaging because of the excellent performances from Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell and especially Jessica Chastain. It was emotionally draining just to watch Chastain’s performance – I can’t imagine what the experience would’ve been like for her, bringing up all that turmoil and agony. Even at the beginning when there is an almost playfulness (maybe) to her actions, her pain is quick to surface in between when we see tears come to her eyes.

I know pretty much nothing about the play (except what I’ve now read on Wikipedia), but that’s hardly surprising given my knowledge of theatre is limited to the musical variety. It does still have much of the feel of a stage play, rather than being cinematic, but that doesn’t bother me (mostly because of the performances, but also because that never bothers me much). I’ve seen it described as claustrophobic but it didn’t feel that way to me.

A closely cropped movie still showing Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain from the side. They both have their eyes closed and strands of hair hanging in their faces.The first thing that struck me, though, was the way it looked. The cinematography is quite static in contrast to the tumultuous emotions expressed by the characters. There are a lot of airy, beautifully lit shots. It’s just gorgeous to look at in general. I particularly liked when there was a mixture of colours on the actors’ faces – the blue of natural light from outside, mixed with the yellow of candlelight. You can see this in the photo above.

The quality of light in this film just kills me. It’s so clear. And it really does give the feeling of an airy house with huge windows letting in all that gorgeous natural light.

A close-up still of Jessica Chastain. Her shoulders and head are visible, and her red hair is pulled back with tendrils around her face. There is a shallow depth of field so only she is in focus.It may sound cliched and a little obvious as it’s said about many redheads, but there is something of a Pre-Raphaelite model about Chastain. That last shot of her definitely put me in mind of Millais’ Ophelia.

It’s quite different from most period dramas I’ve seen; it’s a heavy film and I did need some breaks but it’s definitely worth watching.

Screencaps from here.

The picture below contains a spoiler for the ending but the play was written over 100 years ago, so I’m including it. I wanted to show what I meant about the painting comparison.

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Texas Killing Fields, 2011 (52 films by women #2)

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The second cab off the rank for 52 Films by Women was Texas Killing Fields, directed by Ami Canaan Mann. I mainly watched this because I wanted to see if Stan had any other films that Jessica Chastain has been in when I saw they added A Most Violent Year and I think this was all that popped up. When I noticed it was directed by a woman, too, I added it to my watchlist. I tend to not write up blurbs for my reviews, but you can take a look at what it’s about over on IMDB.

I don’t want to write much because I prefer writing about films that I liked on here, but I’ve made it a goal to write about each of the films I’ve watched for 52 films by women, so I’ll give it a go.

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I’ve seen far worse films but to be frank this isn’t great. It’s murky and difficult to follow at times; I found myself losing concentration very easily as the film went on. The mystery itself – who the ‘bad guys’ were, so to speak – was easy to figure out, though.

The most interesting character was easily Ann, a neglected teen, played by Chloe Grace Moretz. I think if the film had focussed more on her, cut out Sam Worthington’s character and had Jessica Chastain play Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s partner, it would’ve been a lot more interesting and less scattered.

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I don’t have a lot more to say than what I posted on letterboxd, so I’ll copy/paste that: I’ve always thought Jeffrey Dean Morgan has nice screen presence, or maybe just a nice face. Sam Worthington’s character was a total dropkick, and macho guy caricature. Chloe Grace Moretz did pretty well with not much. And there was nowhere near enough Jessica Chastain.

It’s a pity that it doesn’t pull together better because it’s really quite nice to look at, the premise has a lot of potential and it’s got more than a decent cast. It wasn’t so bad that it made me angry – in fact, I don’t have particularly strong feelings about this film one way or the other – but I didn’t get a lot out of it. All in all, I’d say this is of interest for die-hard fans of the genre or of any of the actors (if you’re a completist like I try to be), otherwise it’s probably not going to be particularly enjoyable. But if it’s been on your radar, don’t let me deter you – I’m a firm believer in watching films to form your own opinion, no matter what anyone else has said.

Up next is The Bling Ring by Sofia Coppola, so keep an eye out for that!