Posted by Holly
At this point, Guillermo Del Toro has made quite a name for himself in the horror world, with his atmospheric and haunting films, and the supernatural creatures that inhabit them. While he has worked with a fair share of ghosts, this is his first venture (that I’m aware of) into the arena of Gothic Romance, something that veers closer to one of my favorite new genres: dreadpunk. Certainly, with Del Toro’s knack for stunning visuals, and his ability to craft intricate and interesting characters, I was certain that I was going to love this film.
While this film wasn’t necessarily everything I wanted, or even expected, it is still a strong and suspenseful addition to Del Toro’s collection.
Crimson Peak is the story of Edith Cushing, a strong willed woman with a dream of becoming a published author one day. After facing a number of disappointing rejections, she meets a mysterious foreigner named Thomas Sharpe – he takes an interest in her stories, and quickly begins to take an interest in her as well. During their whirlwind courtship, Edith suffers a tragic loss, and with few other options available, moves the relationship forward. But almost immediately upon her arrival at the Sharpe family home, she begins to understand that something is very wrong within the walls of this home.
This film is very much within the Gothic tradition of feeding on the trappings of romantic fiction, with themes of mystery, madness, and love at its core. There is so much that is grand and larger than life in this; between Allerdale Hall (which feels labyrinthine in its size and layout), the clay extracting machine that Thomas is working on, and the ghostly presence in the home, Edith is merely a speck in the scheme of it all. Yet, this is the story of her finding her footing in an impossible situation, taking control, and fighting against those odds.
Edith is, for me, the strongest element of this entire film. The film very carefully manages to put her into a position where we might find a traditional damsel from Gothic fiction, awaiting her rescue from the terrors she has been subjected to. However, the film sets this up in a way to subvert it; when rescue fails, Edith takes it upon herself to become the hero. Rather than have her wait in a safe location while a male love interest fights for her, she gets to tell her would-be rescuer to wait where it is safe, so that she can go and seek rescue for them herself. She has this agency throughout the whole film, making choices to guide her own fate, rather than be led by the choices of others.
But Edith is not reduced to being a “strong” female character – one that is only allowed to behave with courage and action, without any real complexity. The crux of her character’s arc is centered around her falling in love, and the choices that leads her to make. She is not shown as being at fault for what happens to her, for being deceived and hurt as a result. She is allowed to feel love, even sexual desire, without being framed as weak because of it. She is allowed to be heartbroken and express it directly. This film celebrates the woman at the center of the story, with all of the complicated feelings that make her human.
There were a few things I found somewhat disappointing in this film. Del Toro has always crafted ghosts with a depth and sincerity to them, where they are both frightening and tragic. That is also true in this film, but they lean towards being there more for the effect of frightening Edith than having any real impact on the story. They make a few revelations possible that move the story forward, but we nor Edith never truly get a chance to connect with them, as we did with the ghost in Devil’s Backbone. On the flip side of this, the ghosts are beautiful and ethereal, with a visceral eeriness to them that is striking.
On this note, there was perhaps more story than there was time to really develop over the course of the movie. There are only a handful of characters, and almost as many ghosts, and yet the three that really see their stories developed are Thomas, Lucille, and Edith. The mystery did not need to be punctuated by ghosts, so their presence felt like an extra piece of storyline that wasn’t fully resolved by the end. The same goes for Thomas’s clay machine, or even the clay itself, the likes of which caused Crimson Peak to earn its name. This was clearly more of a plot device than an integral piece of story, but its presence was so ominous and ubiquitous, it felt like it should have had a bigger impact.
For me, a well made Gothic Romance would not be complete with only the right aesthetic and a few ghosts to support it. What really beats at the heart of the genre is exploiting the concept of the romantic – in this case, the very question of love, and what it means to be in love with someone. There is a terror in the vulnerability that creates, in the rejection that is possible, and in the scenario in which your beloved might be someone you never expected. Crimson Peak successfully takes this, and tears right into the core of what terror can lie in the love and relationships of our every day life, with some nice supernatural elements to amp up the effect.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Not Del Toro’s strongest, but a very strong film overall!
Violence level: The bathroom scene. NOOOOOO. I don’t know what problem this guy has about keeping people’s faces intact, but there are some brutal scenes in this. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Scariness level: Some of the ghosts are wonderfully creepy, though there are a few more jump scares than I usually like. Plus Lucille plays her part as the unhinged sister so very well, she might make your skin crawl a bit as well.
Bechdel test: Yes! Lucille and Edith get to speak quite frequently, and not always about Thomas. Their relationship, and their power struggle really is a central part of this story.
Mako Mori test: The entire story is centered around Edith, and while romance is a big part of it, Thomas is a part of moving her story forward, not the other way around.