Crimson Peak is a deliberate love letter to the classic gothic genre of horror. In a time where shaky cameras, cheap jump scares, and the devil apparently possessing every single person who has ever sinned; Crimson Peak attempts to break the modern formula both visually and in storytelling. The former of these succeeds triumphantly while the latter falls a little short, but I’m getting ahead of myself. In short, Crimson Peak follows the story of aspiring authoress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who is married and taken away to a stately manor with aspiring bon vivant Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Though as one can guess things are not as they appear so dear Edith must figure out the mystery of the manor and the secrets behind Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
————–Warning Minor Spoilers Ahead——————–
Visually, Crimson Peak is an incredible mix of striking colors, gothic architecture, and beautiful costumes. Director Guillermo Del Toro’s strength has always been in creating a stunning visual design and in this film you can see him really flex those muscles. The house itself is beautifully horrifying, with red clay oozing from the floorboards, great gusts of wind sweeping through the hallways, and rotting ceilings so snow can fall through it. It’s truly a sight to behold, channeling the classic designs from the likes of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. This house acts as a physical representation for not just the gothic horror genre as a whole, but the sins of the Sharpes’ past. There is a duality at work with the manor, providing both a sense of curiosity and uneasiness. While the house is indeed the most striking aspect of Crimson Peak, the ghosts themselves are hit and miss throughout. Don’t get me wrong their visual design is really intriguing, but it’s incredibly inconsistent. The ones at the manor have a more otherworldly design as if they were ripped straight out of an episode of The Twilight Zone; in contrast some of the ghosts in the beginning look far more traditional, gothically terrifying. There is a brief explanation and a few hints as to why they look so deformed, but Crimson Peak doesn’t think that’s important to explain.
Speaking of story, it’s incredibly by the books. It’s competently told sure, but there “twists” you can see coming a mile off regardless if you have knowledge of gothic horror or not. Even though it sticks to the traditional storytelling archetypes gothic horror is known for, Del Toro never tries to change this up in an unexpected way. This leaves a fair amount of the plot boiling down to nothing more than a razor thin story that lacks any true depth, which is disappointing. One of the biggest gripes I had with this film came in the form of Edith finding a literal box of evidence of the manor’s past. Robbing the house of any mystery about half way through the movie removes any sense of tension the building posses. Our heroine learns all its secrets thanks to a conveniently placed box, serving only to push the story along so we can get to the third act. Sadly, though, this has been a problem with a fair amount of Del Toro films. The story always seems sacrificed for the visual ascetics, hopefully relying on our interest in seeing what crazy design Del Toro has cooked up. Once all the character’s cards are on the table it’s sadly unsatisfying. You’ll soon realize that there is not much meat on these bones, but that hardly stops the cast from adding needed flourishes.
Thankfully the actors all play their parts perfectly, which helps in bringing life to a simplistic story. Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are the standouts here, offering us reversed roles of what we usually associate with horror characters. Chastain’s Lucille is terrifying, acting as the stern and in control sibling; while Hiddleston seems a bit more wide-eyed and hopeful. Instead of making Chastain the easily influenced sibling following the lead of her brother, Del Toro flips horror tropes around and assigns this to Hiddleston. Wasikowska is a competent lead who never devolves into helpless victim trapped in the haunted house. You feel she is competent and smart enough to work her way through this mess, which sadly undermines the horror just a tad. I’m all for strong female leads, but it lacked any sense of fear for her because of this. You never feel like she is truly in danger or unable to work her way out of this scenario, but that is what makes it so true to gothic literature. Crimson Peak isn’t just another cheap horror movie but one that melds both romance and horror together into one genre. Those going into this movie hoping to be scared may leave disappointed as that is not the aim of a movie like this.
Don’t get me wrong, Crimson Peak is a wildly fun movie and one I highly recommend. It’s important, however, that those going into the movie should know this isn’t a truly scary movie. It’s a classic gothic tale that pulls you in visually, offering a decent but formulaic story to string you along. If you can look past the base simplicity of the plot, it’s a deviously good time. Also, did I mention the level of brutality Del Toro puts on display here? For a moment I thought I was watching an Eli Roth flick as the stomach-turning violence is beautifully captured. Thankfully, the violence is not too overbearing but provided just enough cruelty to make you wince. In the end, I do recommend Crimson Peak, as it was a truly entertaining movie. You won’t have any substantial depth, but as an amazing homage to gothic literature Del Toro knocks it out of the park. It’s a bloody good time.
A recent graduate of Arcadia University, Collin MacGregor is a freelance video editor and writer. He covers video games, television, and film for The Nerd Stash. Collin currently is the head film/television reviewer for the site.