Crimson Peak is a gothic horror and romance film directed by Guillermo del Toro. The film stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Tom Hiddleston.
Edith Cushing has been haunted. At 10 years old, she’s visited by the spirit of her dead mother, warning “When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak.” A decade later, a full-grown Edith (Wasikowska) has taken to writing about ghosts. While explaining this to her childhood friend Alan McMichael (Hunnam), other social women and her editor believe she should either work on romance novels or drop the endeavor entirely. While in her father’s company, she comes across Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), an aristocrat from Cumbria seeking financing for an invention. After some flirtation, the two become romantically involved. Edith’s father’s unease of Thomas and his older sister Lucille (Chastain) stirs an informal investigation leading to a coercive deal made between Mr. Cushing and the Sharpes. A series of events leads to a marriage proposal and Edith moving to Allerdale Hall with Thomas and Lucille. As the winter rolls in, Thomas off-handedly tells Edith that she will see why his house is nicknamed Crimson Peak.
The majority of characterization falls on Edith and Thomas. Edith is mainly explained in the first act while Thomas develops through the second. Thomas in particular starts off putting his best impression to get an invention funded, but is exposed from his lack of experience. It seems as though the rest of the movie he wants to break out of the projection of inferiority. Lucille is introduced as an accomplished pianist. Throughout the rest of the movie, she produces an air of concern for Edith as she adjusts to her father’s passing and moving to a different country. Despite this, she is coarse when not tending to Edith. The least developed of these characters is Alan McMichael, immediately introduced as a childhood friend, somewhat of a frequent traveler, and in love with Edith. For the moments he’s on screen, he didn’t hold a lot of interest. It stands to reason that there wouldn’t be an explanation of his love for her if it’s a defining trait of his character.
American and English accents are used throughout the film. Of the few swears that are used in the film, I found myself wondering if they were used in the time period portrayed in the film, but it didn’t seem out of the ordinary enough to dwell on. Finally, the descriptors of things like the Allendale estate are all expansive instead of straightforward. For example, fragile and formidable are used in place of weak and strong.
Frailty is the most frequent idea of the movie. During a dance, Thomas Sharpe makes it a point that precise moves are important for a waltz, so much so that the moves won’t extinguish the flame of a candle. Naturally, when he dances with Edith, the flame wavers but never goes out. One of the things that stuck out the most were the use of moths and butterflies, moreso the former than the latter. In the first act, a group of dying butterflies are noticed by Edith and laments their sickness. Lucille watches over her and says explicitly that beautiful things, like butterflies, are fragile. Conversely, the moths that are native to Cumbria are formidable but aesthetically unpleasant. Throughout the movie, moths are all over the old Allendale house, which is itself still standing despite being in ruins. Early in the movie, the ghosts in the book Edith planned to get published serve as a metaphor. Thomas later explains to Edith in the second act that the house prevents souls of the departed to move on, instead lingering in the house. Each of the ghosts carry a message, whether it be a warning or a story of the past.
The film starts with a child’s lullaby, which repeats sporadically throughout the film. Solemn piano, almost always played by Lucille in-film, sets many of the scenes to unsettle the audience. There are many tells of a jump-scare when the movie abruptly stops with the background music.
Guillermo del Toro has a penchant for fantastical scenes and imaginative characters. Though instead of a faun, Hellboy, or giant mechs, the imaginative characters are the ghosts. Each have distinct features for things like color or body structure. However, the ghosts seem just out of reality enough to rest on the edge of an audience’s suspension of disbelief. The unsettling house almost takes on a life of its own with rattles and shakes. It literally has layers detailing
Tom Hiddleston is the biggest pull for this movie in terms of the cast. Mia Wasikowska may be most recognized in the Diney live-action movie Alice In Wonderland as the title character. Jessica Chastain has been in a string of movies, one of the most recent being the critically acclaimed The Martian. Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy rounds out the top billing and working again with del Toro, originally working with him in Pacific Rim.
While this movie is advertised as a horror film, I feel it’s about as horrific as Pan’s Labyrinth, which is to say that the horror was not the driving force of the movie. Many who follow del Toro’s films have an idea that while characters in his films are unsettling, it’s not always meant to terrify. Fans of Hiddleston will naturally be drawn to this movie.
Can’t imagine why.
As I mentioned earlier, Edith uses ghosts in her writing as a metaphor, that not all stories written by women are love stories. As each ghost makes an appearance, it points out an important message, as a metaphor does in a story. I was left wondering if that was meant as a deliberate self-awareness or just a foreshadowing of the rest of the story.
While the movie as a whole was satisfying, there were a few unresolved plot points that disrupts suspension of disbelief. The moments are in the third act, so for the sake of spoiler free I won’t go into detail.