Despite what the trailers may have you thinking, this amazing film is not a horror or ghost flick, it’s a gorgeous Gothic romance. Writer & Director Guillermo del Toro is well known for his lavish set pieces. Both Hellboys, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Devil’s Backbone all boasted amazing art direction and cinematography, but they pale in comparison to the lavish scenery within “Crimson Peak.”
The film opens in the very early 1900s with a narration by Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) recounting her first encounter with a spirit as a child. This frightening spectre meant no harm, in fact offered a protective warning. A warning that she would not recall until nearly 15 years later. Reaching her mid twenties, young Edith was well on her way to becoming the local spinster. A reputation enhanced by her passion for being a writer. As of yet, Edith is unpublished, the chauvinistic editors of the day scoffing at her ghost story novel, instead suggesting she writes a romance, ignoring her explanations that the ghosts are metaphors (*hint,hint!) Soon after she meets the charming Baronette Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his perpetually sour sister Lucille (Lucille Sharpe). Thomas is in town trying to secure funding for a clay mining invention of his own making. His desperate proposal borders on begging and is quickly rejected by Edith’s wealthy father, Carter (Jim Beaver). The wise Carter also advises his daughter to steer clear of Thomas, as he possesses qualities that make him very uncomfortable.
Story wise, this plot is nothing new. There are very few narrative surprises in this film. While some may condemn the movie for not being more original, consider if you would have condemned Disney’s animated “Snow White” for the same reason? While plot is very important to a quality film, it is often more the way the story is unfolded and presented to us, than the actual narrative itself. That being said, it takes a lot for a film to succeed when it is utilizing well known genre tropes.
Thankfully, “Crimson Peak” excels in all other areas. The casting is perfect, Hiddleston and Chastain delivering the high caliber performances we’ve come to expect. Jim Beaver does an amazing job as Edith’s incredibly likeable father. It should also be pointed out that “Crimson Peak” is the perfect example of a location being a “character” within the film. Allerdale Hall is just as alive as any other character in the movie, and at times, more vivid. The film makes a special point to how it breaths, moans, has memories, and due to the red clay mines beneath it, seems to bleed from its cracks.
Del Toro has gone on record a number of times recently stating this is not a scary movie, but a “Gothic Romance.” Apparently he’s concerned about a backlash from audiences misled by marketing, akin to what happened the opening weekend of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village.” (Directors rarely have any control over how their film is marketed by the studio.) Yes, there are a handful of startling scenes, and the occasional violence is quite brutal and bloody, but at it’s heart the film isn’t aiming to scare you witless. Instead it is aiming to engage your emotions and imagination with a story that’s beauty is matched only by its darkness.
Extra Credit: “Crimson Peak” is loaded with symbolism and metaphors, a few of which we’ll pique your curiosity on below:
Seek out the promotional art that shows an image overlaid over each of the four main characters. Some are obvious. The other parallels will be mentioned during the film.
Watch how colors play a role in the characters and environment. Red and black are obvious, but pay attention to who wears them and how. What about white and yellow? What does this parallel?
A puppy will appear later in the film. It is a Papillon, which is french for “Butterfly.” Why is that meaningful?
Occasionally characters will make statements that aren’t just foreshadowing, but give clues into a deeper meaning of the story. An example would be Edith explaining that the ghosts in her story are metaphors.