Crimson Peak(2015) is a film considered an American gothic romance, directed by Guillermo del Toro who also produced Mama (2013) and wrote the novel The Strain (2009), which has been turned into a television series, one that I follow and like a great deal. Vampires… shrug.
Del Toro’s work is characterized by horror and a strong connection to fairy tales, both of which are quite noticeable in Crimson Peak.
Just a quick little lesson on Gothic fiction is that it combines fiction, horror, death and romance. Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) is often regarded as the first Gothic novel. I’ve read it and I liked it quite a bit. Crimson Peakwas never intended to be straight horror. Some viewers have complained that the film wasn’t scary; I think it was on par for what it was intended to be.
The tale begins with a young Edith whose mother has passed. She lives in a beautiful home with beautiful things. All of this sets up the fairy tale aspects of the film including young Edith’s long blonde hair. Viewers quickly discover that Edith has the ability to see spirits including the ghost of her mother who returns to give Edith a warning. Let me just note right here that if my mother returns from the grave in the same way that Edith’s mother does in the film, I’m not going to be very receptive to any other spirits coming into my realm. The ghost consists of a black figure that appears to be ink and water. I’ll discuss more of the visual effects of the movie in more detail in a moment.
Over a decade into the future, we meet Edith again as a promising young author who enjoys including ghosts in her stories although she will quickly point out that she doesn’t write “ghost stories” but rather “stories that include ghosts”. Seemingly, she is in control of her career and her fate. As readers of gothic literature, we know that Sir Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet, entering the picture is going to stir up Edith’s life and most likely alter her fate. Sharpe is in America looking for investors. Writing that Edith’s father isn’t a fan of Sharpe is a bit of an understatement. One aspect of this dislike is that the father notices that Sharpe’s hands are soft and not rough from working. The father points out that those who work from the ground up should have rough hands. This is one aspect that makes the film an American Gothic romance instead of simply a Gothic romance. Another aspect of the film that makes it truly American *sigh* is the violence. I’ve been going through all of the Gothic novels that I’ve read and that is one aspect that seems to be missing. Theodore wounds the knight in The Castle of Otranto but Walpole did not offer readers graphic details. Of course, perhaps it was graphic for its time and Guillermo del Toro believes that viewers won’t be satisfied without spilled blood. I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises so I won’t go into detail about this but overall Crimson Peak was too gory for my taste. I didn’t need to see the violence and the stabbings. It was cheap in the way that ghosts running towards the screen while loud music plays is cheap. I don’t need a producer to dumb-down the film; I can figure out when I’m supposed to be scared or not without the dramatic music. I can also figure out when a character had been injured in a more subtle way.
Unlike the overuse of violence, there were many subtle aspects of the movie that I enjoyed. The siblings’ complicated relationship wasn’t spelled out; the mystery that Edith’s father discovered wasn’t revealed until the end. It isn’t that I prefer the indirect; I enjoy when a producer knows when to give and when to pull back.
|Tom Hiddleston *swoon* looking more than perfect in Crimson Peak.|
Without question, my favorite part of the film was the visuals, and I’m not just talking about the gothic-ly handsome actor Tom Hiddleston playing Sir Thomas Sharpe… but I will note that I found him to be just perfect in the role. *Takes a moment to recall Hiddleston’s character in that suit during the funeral scene….sigh* From the clothing to the scenery, I loved all the choices. Edith’s dresses along with as Lady Lucille Sharpe’s were gorgeous. I even spent a good portion of the evening Google-searching “Crimson Peak ring” to purchase an imitation of the one in the film. I even threw on my velour robe to lounge around the house and write this post. We really should look to some of the fashion of the Victorians. They had so many pretty pieces in their wardrobes.
Sharpes' mansion, Allerdale Hall, is perfection…never mind that it is dilapidated and sinking into the red clay mine where it sits. Those are just technicalities. Some people just can’t appreciate a good skylight. Of course, if you haven’t seen the movie, you won’t appreciate that joke. The red clay offered a great deal of symbolism as well as visual effects.
I loved the use of leaves falling through the roof (although for the life of me I couldn’t determine from where they were coming… there weren’t any trees near the mansion) and later the falling snow. Scenes juxtaposed beauty and decay.
While the plot was somewhat predictable (as many Gothic novels seem to be), it’s mostly because we’ve seen this trickle down through literature. Now we come to expect the odd little incidents that occur in the film. Again, I’m being purposely obscure here.
I love when movies are circular starting at the end and looping back around through the story. CrimsonPeak does this quite well. It ends with both Edith’s ability to see the dead and her occupation. Well done.
Overall, I would recommend Crimson Peak to a friend. I think that it could have been better in the way that I often note how amazing The Others (2001) demonstrated Gothic fiction; but, I’m not giving up on Guillermo del Toro. I think he was brave to take on such a genre that is seemingly unfamiliar to so many *shrug*. I just hope that in future films, he’ll keep the stabbing/ slicing/ slashing to a minimum.