CRIMSON PEAK – Fernando Velázquez
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
This is not a ghost story. It’s a story with ghosts in it.
Director Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, Crimson Peak, is a love letter to the great Gothic horror stories of the 1800s, inspired by authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Mary Shelley, as well as Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, the headstrong heiress to a Buffalo NY mining company, who is swept off her feet in the aftermath of a family tragedy by a dashing British nobleman, Lord Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After relocating to the Sharpe ancestral home, the crumbling Allerdale Hall in the north of England, Edith finds herself in unfamiliar surroundings, having to deal not only with the dilapidated building – which seems to literally bleed from the walls due to the red clay on which it stands – but also with Thomas’s aloof sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), who seems to be hiding sinister motivations. Worst of all, however, is the fact that Edith has been able to see ghosts since her childhood, and Allerdale Hall is full of them, all warning her to stay away…
Crimson Peak is a beautiful, beautiful film, visually overwhelming the viewer with Gothic splendor in the production design, art direction, and costumes; I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Thomas Sanders, Brandt Gordon, and Kate Hawley were to pick up Oscar nominations for their work here. Everything has that sense of faded glory, of a once majestic façade now crumbling around the edges and caked with a layer of dust. It’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, even when it’s scaring you, so much so that it becomes easy to ignore the film’s somewhat flimsy plot, performances that veer from wooden to hammy, and glacial pacing. Contributing enormously to the film’s atmosphere is the score by Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez, who has written several outstanding horror scores over the years, including El Orfanato, Devil, and Mama, and is working at the top of his game here too.
Written for a full orchestra (in fact, it uses two of them – the London Philharmonia, and the RVTE Orchestra and Choir in Madrid), Velázquez’s score oozes with Gothic atmosphere and romance. It is built around a central theme for Edith herself, which is presented in the opening cue, “Edith’s Theme,” a gorgeous rhapsodic piano motif which grows to encompass a slightly tragic-sounding solo cello theme, and eventually the full orchestra. Stylistically it has echoes of the “Reunión y Final” cue from El Orfanato, crossed with a little bit of the theme from The Impossible, which if you know either of those pieces will give you an idea of what it sounds like. A secondary motif, representing death and the afterlife, is first heard in “My Mother’s Funeral,” an ominous idea low down in the double basses, which really begins to assert itself as the score develops into its second half.
Much of the score adopts a sorrowful, reflective tone. Cues like “I Desperately Need Your Help,” “Optician,” and “Return to Your Ghost,” are beautifully morose, often featuring hints of Edith’s theme in them, and which are anchored by the cello, piano, and other strings, playing somber little melodies to illustrate the growing darkness of Edith’s world. Elsewhere, “Buffalo” is a pretty little scherzo, playful and lively, with a clarinet version of Edith’s Theme accompanying her through the hustle and bustle of turn-of-the-century New York, before all the madness begins, and there is a beautiful piano variation of Edith’s theme in “McMichael”. Velázquez even found time to write a classical dance piece, “Valse Sur Une Berceuse Anglaise,” to which Edith and Thomas have their first dance, and begin to fall in love. Things change, however, when Edith first ventures within the ramshackle walls of Allerdale Hall, and she begins to discover the horrors that lurk within.
The “Allerdale Hall” cue is built around a lush performance of Edith’s theme – probably the best single statement within the meat of the score – but the thematic ideas quickly give way to more textural, but still attractive pieces which accentuate the mood. Pieces like “The House,” “The Book,” “The Attic,” “I’m Here,” and “Let Me Help You,” perfectly capture Del Toro’s vision of the film, combining elegance and beauty with uneasy overtones. This is not an easy tightrope to walk, but Velázquez has traversed it expertly. Some of the flute writing in these cues is especially notable, and the way he weaves fragments of Edith’s theme into them is creative and dramatically sound.
These are counterbalanced by some ghastly, groaning dissonances in the various “Ghost” cues, and others like “Crimson Peak,” “I Have to Get Away from Here,” and the dreadfully oppressive “You Didn’t Drink Your Tea,” which resonate to twisted, agonized cello chords, pizzicato effects, high tension piano trills, and deliciously dark moments for low, throbbing brass. The third “Ghost” cue also introduces a shrieking, unnerving choral effect, which reappears later in “Bubbling Up,” while “The Gramophone” provides the score’s most prominent performance of the Afterlife motif from early in the score, the basses and violins playing in counterpoint.
“The Machine/The Box” is the score’s first action cue of note, a strained, agitated version of Edith’s theme underpinned by a forceful cello ostinato, which continues on into the equally frantic “Keys Chase”. The final two cues, “I Know Who You Are,” and “Lucille & Showdown,” run for a total of 18 minutes, and provide a true grand guignol denouement, with performances of both Edith’s theme and the deathly Afterlife theme combining with massive outbursts of chaos and demonic power, rampaging through the orchestra. These lead into the “Finale” and the “Credits,” where Velázquez brings back Edith’s theme for a sumptuous final statement.
Really, the only criticisms one can make about Crimson Peak could be the slightly piecemeal programming of the album’s numerous short cues, which can sometimes put some people off, and the fact that the original lullaby, “In the Sails of Your Dreams,” which is performed on-screen by Chastain in the film, does not appear on the album (although the “Lullaby Variation” is an opulent piece for solo piano, based on the same melody). Fernando Velázquez has crafted a beautiful celebration of Gothic romance, which expertly balances the love story with the more horrific moments, complements director del Toro’s stylish visuals, and features a truly exquisite central theme.
Buy the Crimson Peak soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Edith’s Theme (1:56)
- My Mother’s Funeral (0:50)
- Buffalo (2:08)
- After the Ghost (0:36)
- Soft Hands (0:46)
- McMichael (1:05)
- Valse Sur Une Berceuse Anglaise (1:18)
- Ghost I (1:41)
- I Desperately Need Your Help (0:54)
- The Butterfly (0:52)
- Optician (1:26)
- Return to Your Ghost (3:55)
- Allerdale Hall (6:19)
- The House (1:48)
- What Was That (0:41)
- Lullaby Variation (1:41)
- The Book (0:53)
- The Attic (1:47)
- Ghost II (0:51)
- Crimson Peak (0:54)
- Ghost III (1:42)
- I Have to Get Away from Here (1:22)
- Letter from Italy (0:38)
- I’m Here (3:02)
- The Machine/The Box (1:28)
- Bubbling Up (0:22)
- Keys Chase (0:57)
- You Didn’t Drink Your Tea (0:58)
- The Gramophone (3:04)
- You Are Awake (1:40)
- Let Me Help You (0:53)
- We Stay Together (1:15)
- I Know Who You Are (8:15)
- Lucille & Showdown (10:46)
- Finale (1:52)
- Credits (4:11)
Running Time: 75 minutes 07 seconds
Quartet Records (2015)
Music composed by Fernando Velázquez. Conducted by Fernando Velázquez, James Shearman and James McWilliam. Performed by The London Philharmonia Orchestra and The RVTE Orchestra and Choir, Madrid. Orchestrations by Fernando Velázquez, Jaime Gutierrez, Jeremy Levy, Ryan Humphrey and Susie Benchasil Seiter. Recorded and mixed by Marc Blanes and Casey Stone. Score produced by Fernando Velázquez and Johannes Vogel. Album produced by Fernando Velázquez and Jose M. Benitez.