I don’t usually see scary movies in theaters, but with Crimson Peak I had to make an exception. I’m a big Guillermo Del Toro fan, and I couldn’t resist seeing his latest movie on the big screen, scary or not.
So let’s get right into it, shall we? The main character of Crimson Peak is Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska, a young woman who is an aspiring writer (she’s working on a ghost story), and whose father is a wealthy businessman. When she is a child, she is visited by the gruesome ghost of her mother, who warns her to “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
One day fourteen years later, into her life walks Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki from The Avengers), an English aristocrat who seeks funding from Edith’s father to mine the rich deposits of red clay that his house is built upon. Edith also meets Thomas’ sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain, with whom he appears to be quite close, despite her frigid demeanor towards everyone else.
Edith’s father initially refuses him, but Edith begins to fall for him nonetheless. Things come to a head when Edith’s father is mysteriously and brutally murdered, which leads Edith to marry Thomas and she is whisked off to Thomas and Lucille’s home in England, the dilapidated Allerdale Hall, which is built on top of the aforementioned red clay, which seeps ominously through the aging floorboards.
Edith tries to adapt to her new environment, which is made difficult by the fact that her new sister-in-law can barely contain her loathing, and also by the fact that Allerdale Hall is extremely haunted. I mean, there are haunted houses, and then there are capital-H Haunted Houses, and Allerdale Hall is definitely the latter. Edith has seen ghosts before, and she sees them once again in Allerdale Hall, where a grisly apparition with a meat cleaver lodged in its head lies in the bathtub, and other fleshy spirits haunt the halls.
The spirits once again warn her to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” and Edith is terrified to learn from her husband that Allerdale Hall is sometimes referred to as Crimson Peak by the locals, due to the red clay that stains the ground blood-red when it snows. By the time she learns this, she has grown progressively weaker and is starting to cough up blood.
I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say there are some unsavory revelations about the Sharpe family. Throughout the film, it is abundantly clear that the Sharpes are up to something, and that Sir Thomas knows far more than he lets on to his wife.
To be honest, I am of two minds regarding the film’s denouement. Maybe it was yet another case of the Curse of the Misleading Trailer, but part of me was kind of let down once we learn what Thomas and Lucille are really up to, since it wasn’t quite as dramatic as what I had had in mind. The film’s trailers had led me to form my own theories, which turned out to be completely wrong. I’m not even going to say what my theories were, because to then say that my theories were wrong would constitute a spoiler in itself, and I really don’t want to spoil anything.
So like I said, I’m torn. Does the fact that my theories about the film were wrong mean that the film’s advertising was effective, because it misled me, or was it the Curse of the Misleading trailer, in that the movie’s trailers led me to expect something that the movie itself failed to deliver upon? I can’t decide.
And, lest you think that this whole discussion is irrelevant, it really isn’t. And that’s because I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or not.
I hate to sound so wishy-washy about this, but in some ways I am disappointed and in some ways I’m not. I was a bit let down by the film’s story, since it wasn’t quite as grandiose as what I had had thought in mind, and yeah, that was a bit of a bummer.
But on the other hand, Crimson Peak did deliver on a lot of other things I expected from it. For one thing, it looks great. Guillermo Del Toro has always had an eye for snazzy visuals, and Crimson Peak is no exception. The film’s Victorian-era costumes and sets look fantastic, and for a horror movie it’s brightly-colored and visually vibrant. Allerdale Hall, the ramshackle ancestral home of the duplicitous Sharpe family, is a masterpiece of set design and special effects.
And again, this being a Guillermo Del Toro flick, the monster effects are similarly top-notch. The spirits that roam the dark corridors of Allerdale Hall are gruesome and terrifying, I thought of them as flesh-ghosts because they look like they still have some meaty parts attached to their decaying skeletons.
It also bears mentioning that Crimson Peak is not a film for the faint of heart, it definitely earns its R-rating for some pretty bloody violence, and there is a sex scene, although it’s fairly tame by today’s standards. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie do get pretty gory and there are some cringe-inducing scenes, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for anyone who saw Pan’s Labyrinth. Remember that scene in Pan’s Labyrinth where the villain pulverizes that one guy’s face with a bottle? Kind of like that. The murder of Edith’s father is particularly grisly, as he gets his head repeatedly smashed into a porcelain sink until his face is reduced to a pulpy ruin.
But don’t worry, it’s not all blood and guts. The three main characters in the movie are all superbly acted, especially Thomas’ sister Lucille. Jessica Chastain looks like she’s having a great time, and how could she not, when given such a juicily villainous role to play? Tom “Loki” Hiddleston is also great, he’s totally believable as a smooth-talking aristocrat who knows more than he’s letting on. And Mia Wasikowska provides a strong performance at the center of the movie. Dressed up in the elaborate Victorian costumes and with very pale skin, she almost looks like a doll, but her external fragility belies her internal strength.
Overall, I really enjoyed Crimson Peak. There were some aspects of the plot that disappointed me a bit, and hardcore horror fans will probably say that it’s not scary enough. It’s not a perfect movie, but I still really enjoyed it, and, as with every movie Guillermo Del Toro makes, it feels very personal. As imperfect as it might be, it still feels like the film Del Toro wanted to make.
I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious, since it’s not like I’m psychic and knew exactly what Del Toro was trying to do or anything. But still, Del Toro’s movies all feel very personal to me, as if he attached a projector to his brain and shone it at the wall, and then made a movie out of whatever he saw. His originality and obvious passion for his films really come through. The movie doesn’t make any profound statements about humanity or anything, but it’s a very entertaining watch that will be worth seeing for genre fans.
So yeah, those are my thoughts on Crimson Peak. I’m planning to write about one more scary movie this month, so look for that next week if you’re interested.