As a big Hiddleston fan, I was looking forward to this movie right from the get-go. Aside from the title and the prelude to a dark storyline, I purposely avoided watching trailers and researching this film before I managed to sit down and watch it, and I’m rather glad I did. I had expected a horror-based fantasy film with perhaps vampires, or the like. When I realized it was, in fact a ghost story, I was at first a bit skeptical (ghosts and ‘paranormal activity’ have been a bit overdone these days, and I was looking forward to the first decent vampire film since Interview With the Vampire).
As usual, I would like to start with the casting choices. So, to all you fellow Hiddlestoners in the audience, let’s address the elephant in the room; Tom Hiddleston, of course. Fangirl bias aside, he was very well cast as the silent, but charming Thomas Sharpe. Parts of the film definitely felt like a tip of the hat to the die-hard fans out there, but he still managed to pull through the subtle tortures of Thomas Sharpe’s character without making it blatantly obvious. That was the best way to pull off this character, really; the audience knows something is off, but it’s fun to keep them guessing as to what is off.
Secondly, we have Jessica Chastain as Lucille Sharpe, and I daresay, she was my favourite character in the film. Entertainingly wicked, she plays a much less subtle character, but I felt that this contrasted fantastically with Thomas Sharpe’s more introverted demeanor. When someone is cast to portray a character that you would usually see in a padded room with a hug-me jacket, it is easy for the actor to go overboard and make the character less believable by attempting to make the character’s outbursts louder and overly-dramatic. Jessica, however, managed to pull off crazy-on-overdrive without making it unintentionally funny. As you see her descent into the madness that remained relatively dormant throughout the beginning of the film, you find yourself genuinely concerned to be in the same room with this woman, so to speak. I had the most fun (and concern) with her performance and I don’t think she could have been better cast.
Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam played Alan McMichael; Edith’s gentleman caller before the arrival of Thomas Sharpe. We don’t see much of him, as he is a bit more of a secondary character, but what we do see of his performance is well-enough. Unfortunately, one of my only issues with the film is that aside from the main three, very few other characters really got a chance to shine and were drowned in the plot when it began to detach from the United States to England. Hunnam’s character was one of those lost in the story arc. While I would have liked a little more screen time, I still believe he was relatively well-cast.
Finally, we have the lovely Mia Wasikowska as our protagonist; Edith Cushing. I admit, the only thing I recall having seen her in was 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, which I thought was alright, but it did not stand out to me as much as it may have to others. I quite enjoyed her performance in this film, however. It’s all too common to see a stereotypical, copy-and-paste actress to play the frightened heroine with the personality of sandpaper to match, but she has a unique beauty about her and the ability to play the strong, independent lady without making her seem crass and, for lack of a better word, bitchy. She managed to maintain an air of class and sophistication, and I enjoyed the subtlety of her character. Furthermore, most typical ‘scream-queens’ really tend to go overboard with the scares, while Mia manages to show her range very well. Rather from going from comfortable to absolute terror, she manages everything in-between; definitely a wonderful casting choice.
As is a general strength of Guillermo del Toro, the atmosphere was one of my favourite elements of this film. Everything from the locations to the costuming was simply on-point. He really wanted to work the idea of the house being “alive” in a sense, and I think they really managed to achieve that. From the moment the characters arrive at Allerdale Hall and step into the house, I fell in love. From the staircases to the way the lights dance from the walls and gothic colour scheme, I immediately felt wistful on the concept of living here myself (aside from the ghosties and gruesome history). The house truly did seem to breathe, bleed and react to the plot as much as any other character, seeming to be very much alive.
If I may just take a moment to address the costuming; beautifully done. I don’t recall seeing a single ensemble I did not wish to wear myself, or see my own beau in. Edwardian fashion tends to be very hit-or-miss for me. I either adore the fashion, or it simply goes under my radar. In this film, however, the character’s distinct fashions really stood out beautifully. So a big kudos to Kate Hawley for her work.
Personal note: Knowing that Del Toro was originally said to be creating the new Silent Hill game, and it having been cancelled, this movie was a reminder of what a fantastic fit he would have been in the team to revive the franchise from it’s constant state of decline. The latest games have been lacking in atmosphere and sadistic charm. Seeing the ghosts and apparitions in this film reminded me of Del Toro’s gift for horror-based fantasy and I admit; I still hope they find a way to reboot the Silent Hill project with his involvement.
This just may have been my favourite soundtrack from a movie this year. Beautifully composed by Fernando Velázquez, each song reflected the foreboding, yet exquisite nature of the film’s gothic, victorian atmosphere. I did not recognize his name before this film, but after hearing what he is capable of, I will be looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in future projects. While it would have been simple to play it safe and go with James Newton-Howard, or another composer skilled in the genre, Del Toro couldn’t have made a better choice for this film.
I feel that this film was skillfully put together with impressive talent all across the board from the actors to the set-designers. As far as ghost stories go, this Jane-Austin-meets-Shakespeare macabre romance quickly became a personal favourite of mine. Not shying away from the uncomfortable subject matter, and avoiding too much pandering to the audience, del Toro maintained a great sense of balance, effectively reminding us that he is a highly skilled director from whom we may expect great things from in the future.
Obviously, I do not expect a sequel, nor do I think it would be wise. As joyous as I would be to return to Allerdale Hall, the story ended on a perfect note of resonance that would only be lost in an extended plot. However, I hope to see del Toro tackle another horror-based story in the future; perhaps he could be the director to pull the vampire genre out of the teen sap-story category, but we’ll see what else he’s got up his sleeve.
Until then, I suppose we should be grateful for the lesson; love makes monsters of us all.