On October 16, 2015, we were given the latest Guillermo Del Toro installment, “Crimson Peak.” This film was a step away from the creature features that Del Toro has become famous for, and instead gives us a horror, and twist filled gothic romance.
Release Date: October 16, 2015
Run Time: 119 minutes
Starring: Mia Wasikowska
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Rob’s Score: 6.7/10
“Ghosts are real, that much I know. I’ve seen them all my life.”-Edith Cushing
In 1887, Buffalo, New York, we are introduced to a young Edith Cushing. She is the daughter of a very successful and rich businessman Carter Cushing. As Edith lies in bed trying to find sleep, she is visited by the ghost of her mother who bears a strong warning for her, “BEWARE OF CRIMSON PEAK.” Fast forward fourteen years later and Edith is a moderately successful writer of ghost stories, much to the distaste of her editor who wants romance novels, the genre that he feels young woman should be writing about. It is after one of these meetings when Edith meets the charming Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and later on his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Thomas is seeking American investors, including Edith’s father Carter, for his new clay mining device. Edith is instantly taken with Thomas, however, Carter and his partners are not. Once again, Edith’s mother returns to her with the same warning: “BEWARE OF CRIMSON PEAK.” Despite the disapproval of her father, Edith and Thomas become involved. The appearance of this stranger raises the eye of Edith’s lifelong friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who hires a private investigator to gather information on the odd Sharpe family. With the reveal of some less than stellar findings, Carter offers the Sharpe’s a bribe to not only leave Buffalo, but for Thomas to also break Edith’s heart so she does not have to be dragged down by the findings of the Sharpe’s. Thomas agrees, and the next day they set out to leave. Shortly after this agreement Carter is beaten to death in a sauna, and Thomas returns to comfort and eventually marry Edith and bring her back to Allerdale Hall, the run down mansion the Sharpe’s live in. Upon Edith’s arrival the once friendly Lucille has turned cold, and she is being haunted by visions. These events remind her of her mother’s warnings, and the odd circumstances regarding her father’s death. Are the Sharpe’s who they claim to be; even worse, if they aren’t, who can help Edith when she is a continent away from home?
Guillermo Del Toro served as writer, director, and producer on this film. Crimson Peak is a throwback to the golden days of gothic haunted mansion films. There is quite a lot going on here in terms of themes. At the heart of Crimson Peak, this is a romance placed beautifully in a gothic, turn of the century shell. While it was presented as a ghost story, it really is not. Edith is not being haunted; she is, in fact, being warned. The ghosts are less of a villain or even main character of this story and more of a device to drop hints towards the twist of the film. On first viewing this fact somewhat bothered me. Upon viewing the commercial it looked as if we are strapping in for a haunted house tale. The film is actually far away from that and is so much more. I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw this film I felt deceived by the commercial as compared to the final product. However, upon second viewing that is just one of the strengths of Del Toro’s script.
Crimson Peak is like watching two different tales in one movie. The first half of the movie, set in Buffalo, is a wonderful romance story that shows us Edith and Thomas, and the effects it has on the other characters. This part of the film also serves as a great buildup to the horror filled second half. The second half of the film set in the mansion in England is when everything comes to a head and the audience is given a truly twisted pay off! Crimson Peak leads to several possible conclusions to the story, and teases all of them, but we are left with such an unexpected climax that one cannot help but be amazed by the power of Del Toro’s storytelling.
Crimson Peak combines romance, ghosts and gothic horror with some pretty heavy subjects. First and foremost is greed. Without giving too much away The Sharpe’s are motivated by greed and perform some terrifying deeds because of it. This isn’t the only example, as Edith’s editor wants her to write romance novels because they will sell better. We also get a little glimpse into the gender roles of the time as romance novels were deemed more acceptable for a woman as opposed to ghost stories. Even Edith’s father, Carter, is guilty of allowing his greed get the better of him. There are several mentions of the way he and his sister were dressed that gives us the impression that he would not want to invest his money into someone who looked lower than him.
Finally, we have Allerdale Hall. A once majestic mansion is now in a state of ruin. This is a perfect example as to what the effects of greed are having on the characters of the film; what appears to be grand soon crumbles.
The second big theme is love. On the surface that sounds nice and wonderful, but this is “dirty” love. We have Edith and Thomas who represent forbidden love; they are in love however the relationship is frowned upon to the point where Thomas is bribed to leave. We have taboo love, (again trying to stay as spoiler free as possible), of Thomas and his sister Lucille, who will do unspeakable things to return to their once great place of power. We also have the secretive love that Alan McMichael has, and has always had for Edith. All of these types of love lead the characters to do things that they never thought they could. Del Toro weaves these storylines majestically together, ultimately leading to a truly fulfilling movie viewing experience.
Mia Wasikowska received top billing and she gave a very good performance, however it was Tom Hiddleston who stole the show. He naturally has charm and charisma, and he was perfect not just for the character of Thomas Sharpe, but also for the time period of the film. Jessica Chastain returns to Del Toro’s film to play Lucille (sans her hot topic rock shirts). Her portrayal and look was the perfect combination of terrifying and absolutely gorgeous and convincing. Charlie Hunnam, who portrayed Dr. Alan McMichael, had limited screen time, and that was for the best.
Fernando Velazquez composed an eerie, yet grand score that was perfect for the themes and feel of the film.
Crimson Peak opened to mostly positive reviews including high praise from the master of horror Stephen King, and his equally talented son Joe Hill (two of my favorite writers). It has amassed a box office total of over $74 million, and has been nominated for several awards, as seems to be the trend with Del Toro flicks.
Crimson Peak is a vast tapestry of romantic storytelling and classic horror. I would definitely recommend a viewing, however do not go in with a notion of what this film will be or lead too. Just enjoy the ride, and if you managed to avoid spoilers, you are in for a hell of a twist!