Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam
Crimson Peak has divided audiences and critics alike, with negative reviews claiming it’s either not scary enough for the horror fans or too campy for the serious crowd – in other words, the marketing team served the film to us on a throne of lies. But ignore all of the naysayers and disappointed hardcore horror types, Guillermo del Toro’s film is gory and glorious. Crimson Peak delivers exactly what it’s supposed to: deliciously gothic entertainment.
Like a Grimm’s fairytale by way of Angela Carter and the Addams Family, Crimson Peak is splendidly dark and startlingly bizarre. The opening scene introduces Edith Cushing (a name surely designed with a knowing nod in mind), our courageous lead, as a young girl who experiences something frightful: a night-time visitation by the ghastly spectre of her recently deceased mother. But instead of traumatising Edith, this unpleasant event fires her imagination. Skipping ahead a few years we find a young woman (Mia Wasikowska), a literary ingenue with an abundance of creativity, resourcefulness, independence and a flair for writing, who has her sights set on breaking into publishing with tales of ghosts and the supernatural.It is in Buffalo, New York, that we spend the first third of the film getting to know Edith, daughter of a wealthy businessman and object of affection for the local doctor, Alan (a charming, but forgettable Charlie Hunnam). Edith is plucky, determined and witty yet, despite her strong-mindedness, she is lonely. Edith’s struggle to fit in with the other girls of her social group and the limitations placed upon women in the society she inhabits means that it doesn’t take long for her to be swept off her feet by the dashing baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and his mysterious, elegant sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, undoubtedly the star of the film).
When tragedy strikes, there’s nothing left for Edith to do except pack up her things and move to England with her new husband Thomas. Her new home – nicknamed ‘Crimson Peak’ by the locals – is a grand house in fictional Cumberland, a rural English county. A building in a state of immense physical decay (a gaping hole where a roof should be, plumbing that spurts scarlet water, floorboards seeping with the red ore from beneath the ground) the house is being pulled, quite literally, more and more into the sinking earth each day. If that isn’t bad enough, the place, Edith discovers, is haunted too.These aren’t the apparitions we’re used to, however. The ghosts in this film aren’t otherworldly; they are of the earthly, material realm. They scream and whisper, thud and squelch, drift in the air and crawl their way across the ground. The manifestations that appear to Edith (and only Edith) are entities that have remained in the world even after their physical bodies have rotted, trapped in the Sharpes’ home that itself is refusing to completely fall to pieces and disappear. It clings to the landscape, much like the Sharpe siblings have gripped themselves tightly to their crumbling legacy. Edith, when justifying her choice to write ‘ghost’ fiction, claims that these creatures aren’t monsters but ‘metaphors for the past’. Del Toro’s film isn’t about ghosts or nightmarish ghouls; it is about haunting, lingering presences that tie people down – tragedies that can inhabit a place and the wickedness that can corrupt a person. This film is about perversity in the face of natural orders of life and death.
Each of del Toro’s films, from The Devil’s Backbone to Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth and even, arguably, to Blade II (which I continue to defend despite its utter ridiculousness) are visually sumptuous. The director’s uniquely brilliant set designs are always such a treat to behold, and this film is no different – you just want to absorb it all in, from the sepia-toned warmth of the New York scenes to England’s gloomy, snow-covered moor and its mansion with weeping walls of blood-red ore. Crimson Peak is macabre but, most importantly, this film is funny. Surprisingly so. The director and the cast know exactly the type of film this is, clichés and all, but this doesn’t make Crimson Peak a parody of the genre, nor are the performances anything less than perfect. Chastain, in particular, is wonderful. Lucille is mesmerisingly mad, and it is she, in fact, who is the film’s most terrifying and sinister creation.