God, I was supposed to have this up over a month ago. Damn you finals!
Alright, I brought this up in my review of Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, but it bears expanding on. I don’t watch much horror. In fact, I tend to stay away from horror post 1960. Why? Because 1960 is the year that Psycho came out, which is believed by some to be the birth of the slasher genre, a genre I typically avoid with a fierce passion. Not that there’s anything wrong with the killer with a body count, but I prefer to sleep at night….not that it stops Freddy and Chucky from getting into my dreams and I haven’t even seen those movies. Also, I tend to avoid paranormal movies. The dead have their place, we have ours. We don’t bug them, they don’t haunt us. I may not be religious, but I do have a healthy fear of the occult. Keep the ouija boards away from me and I’ll be good.
The exceptions to my horror post 1960 rule usually extends to duel genre movies. You know, Horror Thrillers like the Hannibal Lecter films, Horror Musicals like Repo and Devil’s Carnival, and Sci-Fi Horrors like Alien.
Crimson Peak is a Gothic Romance film. A genre I have a particular knowledge of thanks to a class I took during a semester in London last year…well Gothic, but Gothic Romance is a subgenre. The most well known origin for the genre is the publication of Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel ‘The Castle of Otranto’ which set the tone for most of its classic tropes: ghostly encounters, the beautiful gothic architecture, the supernatural equating human mental states and pasts, the sympathetic heroine, the noble, the evil tyrant, etc. Crimson Peak hits all of these.
The film stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, a wealthy young aspiring American author with a passion for ghost stories, probably inspired by having seen her dead mother’s ghost as a child, but with an editor who wants romance novels because, you know, woman. When the aristocratic, but penniless English baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston, and his sister Lucille come to her father seeking investment for a clay mining machine, she becomes romantically attached to Sir Thomas. After a tragedy allows the two to marry, Edith is taken to the Sharpes’ home, the very place her mother’s spirit warned her about: Crimson Peak. Faced with nothing but ghosts and questions, Edith must solve the mystery of Crimson Peak and escape with her life.
Right off the bat, Edith is a great protagonist. She’s intelligent, quick thinking, doesn’t take nonsense, speaks her mind, but is polite and caring. She’s wealthy, but not spoiled and doesn’t care for the attentions of a higher class like her peers. She falls in love with Thomas because he appreciates her for who she is. He enjoys her writing. This role is a big step up from Wasikowska’s only other film I’ve seen, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I did not like and will not watch its sequel. She’s sympathetic, emotional, interesting, pretty much everything Alice wasn’t. Then again, it has been five years and she’s been in an Oscar nominated film since then. Now if they just weren’t making another Alice movie.
Tom Hiddleston proves he’s not just the overdramatic Norse God of Mischief. He’s a brilliant actor in a serious role as well. Where as Loki was dramatic, Sir Thomas is more subtle in his ways and you really feel he cares for Edith, but has something to hide as well. Jessica Chastain’s Lucille is appropriately creepy, cold, and clearly doesn’t like Edith. Although you can tell what her role in the story is, you don’t see the twists coming.
As for the supporting cast, Edith’s father is a kind and caring man who doesn’t mind that his daughter’s different from what’s considered ‘normal’. A nice touch. Edith’s friend, Dr. McMichael plays a dual role of caring friend and investigator as he pieces together different bits to the same puzzle Edith tries to solve. Finally of note is Mr. Holly, a private detective hired by Edith’s father. He’s one of those ‘do what needs doing so long as there’s pay’, but he does have some heart to him.
Guillermo del Toro is quickly becoming one of my new favourite directors, having also seen and loved his films Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. All of his films are equal parts creepy and beautiful and Crimson Peak is no exception. The Gothic genre has always been famous for its use of architecture. The Sharpe Mansion is decrepit, but also strangely beautiful. It’s broken down in many places, but with just the right amount of light to give it an almost enchanting feel to it during the day. As a fan of gothic architecture, I enjoyed looking at it.
On that note, the use of lighting and shadows are used to great effect in this film, as it should in a good horror film. This used especially well when it comes to the effects for the ghosts, particularly the one made from dust in the sunlight. You know how you can see the individual particles of dust in a beam of light? That’s what it is. Atmosphere is a big part of this film. Best part for me? I got to see it on Halloween. What a perfect time!
And then there’s the writing. This is a great mystery. It leaves you all the clues you need, whether through physical evidence or spiritual. Plus, and most importantly, everything makes sense. There aren’t any loose threads that I noticed other than the question of ‘How long was Edith at Crimson Peak?’ I’m just wondering how much time what was happening would have taken for her to die as a result of everything. Was it a month or two? Weeks? Days? I don’t know. Everything else though, motivations and such, it all made sense in the end even if just emotional sense for some.
I should also probably point out that I tend to avoid romance films unless there’s something to do with the speculative genres involved. Otherwise, there’s nothing in it for me with some exception. Crimson Peak gives me that extra: a mystery to unravel, superb effects and sets, well written characters, a twist I didn’t see coming, and an all around good film. It’s definitely one of my new favourite horror movies and I’ll most likely get it when it comes out on DVD. I hope you will too.
(Photo via Universal Pictures)