Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Crimson Peak: Gothic Romance, Tragic Horror

The internet first started buzzing about Crimson Peak when costuming shots surfaced and everyone saw the delightful leads Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, and Mia Wasikowska in beautiful period dress. Then set pictures. Then the director, Guillermo del Toro, mentioned that it was a gothic romance rather than straight horror. By this point, I was super excited to go, so this Saturday my friend and I loaded up our purses with candy and went to go see it.

Without spoiling too much, a young woman named Edith Cushing is ferreted away to a creepy mansion in England with siblings Sir Thomas Sharpe and Lady Lucille Sharpe. Ghosts ensue.

So, is it worth seeing?

Well, it depends. You see, Crimson Peak was conceived of (at least, in my view) for a very specific person.

If you like Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre, The Monk, The Castle of Ontranto, Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca, yes. If the cover art of trashy Gothic romance novels with heroines swooning about  in billowing white nightgowns near creepy castles is part of your aesthetic, yes. If you've always secretly (or not so secretly) wished you lived in a crumbling gothic manor house, yes. If you have a soft spot for wounded characters and would like to gather them to your chest and soothe their sorrows, yes. If you love period costumes, yes. If you are content to see something very pretty regardless of its faults, yes.

If you want truly gripping horror, no. If you want a plot that innovates at every turn, no. If you hate being able to guess what the next move will be, no. If the misogyny of early gothic literature upsets you, no. If you want characters that act in believable, realistic ways with coherent motivations, no. If blatant symbolism turns you off, no. If the sight of Tom Hiddleston's ass makes you want to run for cover, no.

That being said, I was the perfect candidate for this movie. My favorite novel for many years was Jane Eyre and I had more of a crush on Mr. Rochester than perhaps was reasonable (yeah, yeah I know.) I spent the entire movie happily swooning at, not the campness, per say, but the movie's success at reviving the turn-of-the-century gothic. I could guess every move and I didn't mind because, like watching a familiar ballet or listening to a rendition of a favorite tune, I can still appreciate brilliant execution. 

And, okay, Crimson Peak doesn't break new ground but that doesn't make it any less brilliant. It's easily the most beautiful movie I've seen in a long time. The rich contrasts of gold, turquoise, and red, highlighted by white and black, give the entire movie a very emotionally charged atmosphere. The acting from the leads is wonderful. The costumes are stunning (read more about the costume philosophy here, if you like.)

And for that I'm willing to forgive a lot. I'm willing to forgive plot holes, bad decisions, lingering threads, predictability. I'm willing to forgive the truly atrocious ghost design (I know some people liked it, I didn't, and I don't like the "symbolism" that has been attributed to the different kinds of ghosts.) I'm willing to forgive how quickly it moved. I'm willing to forgive that red clay like the clay seen in the movie doesn't exist in Britain because it requires volcanic activity to exist (my friend who I went to see it with is a geologist and rock nerd and was less willing to forgive this.)

Am I blinded by my own preconceived tastes? Of course. As I said, this movie is made for people like me. And I'll forgive these flaws because I recognize them from the source material, the original gothics, which are flawed and over the top and everything modern minimalist clean storytelling isn't which is part of what makes the gothic genre so beautiful to me. I've heard the film be called a "modern gothic" which isn't true at all, but it is a pretty great synthesis of the fin de siecle gothic mode.

Have you seen Crimson Peak? What did you think?

NOTE: the comments of this post are a completely spoiler-friendly zone, don't read if you don't want it spoiled!


  1. I'm much more into horror (or, rather read 'I don't want to admit swooning too much over anyone) - but looking at the film's wardrobe alone, I'll definitely be giving this one a try. Thanks for your review.

  2. I've also seen Crimson Peak and I love this film (also wrote two words about it on my blog). I think, the problem is, that most people expect horror or a deep love story... I think, the film is what it's not a ghost story ;)

  3. I have been looking forward to this movie, but no, I did not expect a great horror movie. I would watch it for the imagery alone :)

  4. It was a beautiful movie, and don't like scary movies anyway, so I was fine that it wasn't scary or much of a ghost movie. I also loved the red clay. I guessed the plot in the first half hour, which never happens. It was the most predictable movie I've enter seen

  5. I loved it and was able to watch the entire thing without having to cover my eyes, because I'm a complete wuss when it comes to horror movies. Except that scene in the bathroom - I had to turn away then.

    It was a visual feast with scads of decorating ideas! Plus the costumes (and occasionally the lack thereof) ... utter perfection. ;)

  6. Okay, thank you!! NOW I understand why I want to see this and my husband doesn't! I'm not into super scary stuff, so that's fine, but the SETS and the COSTUMES... ::DROOL::

    I want to see this on the big screen; he wants to wait for the DVD. We shall see who wins...

  7. I saw it on Halloween and I LOVED IT. I loved it a lot more than I thought I would. I was thinking it would be an enjoyable way to escape the summer heat. But I just really really enjoyed it. It was such a feast for the eyes and while the story was predictable it was still very enjoyable. I want wait to buy a copy and watch it over and over.

  8. I just love Guillermo del Toro's vision and the way things come together onscreen. Great piece!

  9. It has all the elements you'd expect from a gothic horror film, splendid production values and it's well told.

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