Crimson Peak is Equal Parts Beautiful and Terrifying
Generally speaking, I don’t watch that many horror flicks. At least, I don’t watch that many GOOD ones. I tend to watch bad, low-budget productions for the accidental comedy and goofy effects; in other words, ones that won’t give me nightmares. But, for the sake of my fabulous readers, I took the plunge and saw Crimson Peak, which looked legitimately freaky based on the trailer (see below).
And yes, yes it was. But, it was also in turns gorgeous and subtle as well as brutal and spine-tingling. Director and co-writer Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) struck a delicate balance of mystery, horror and eye-candy in this unique film.
Unfortunately for me a major plot point was given away in a conversation right before I entered the theater, so I won’t do that to you (though I think I would have guessed it anyway based on the strength of the acting by Jessica Chastain). In brief, Crimson Peak is the tale of a young woman who aspires to be a writer of Gothic fiction, probably because she saw the ghost of her mother when she was a child. As she tries to tell her potential publisher, her book is “not a ghost story. Rather, it is a story with ghosts in it,” which is also an apt description of the film.
When she is told she needs to add a romance in order to get the book made (because as a female author at the turn of the 20th century that is what is expected), she doesn’t let it daunt her and she begins transcribing her manuscript using a typewriter to hide her ladylike script. The plot of the movie then follows the trajectory she is told she needs for her book, and she finds herself romantically entangled with an impoverished baronet named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). After the mysterious death of her father (Jim Beaver of Supernatural), she marries Thomas and moves to his dilapidated mansion in England, where the more she finds out, the more in danger she becomes.
You could not ask for a hauntable house as the heart of this film, and as Josh Wrigler writes, “That heart is called Allerdale Hall, a vast and isolated mansion, covered in snow, its scalp exposed to the elements, its bones rotting away. Guillermo del Toro describes the house as an animal that’s laid down and died — an apt comparison, given the deadly secrets within the structure.” The vast manse is sinking into the red clay below it, which causes crimson fluid to squish through the floorboards and the winter snow to turn the color of blood. Thomas promises Edith that if he can get his invention (which is a piece of steam-powered awesomeness) running and begin mining this last vestige of his family’s legacy that all will be well, he just needs her to invest her fortune into its development. But, the dead have a message for her, and she is led to clues that tell her a much more sinister story.
The ghosts in this film have to be the all-time scariest renderings of ghosts I have ever seen. They are both solid and ephemeral, skeletal and spectral. One appears to break through the floorboards as if emerging from her grave, the movements shambling and painful. These are indeed tortured souls, and it is really a waste to look at any stills from the film because it is in their movements that they make your blood run cold.
As terrifying as these demons seem to be, it turns out to be the living who are truly monstrous. There are scenes of absolute brutality, which is made all the more horrible in juxtaposition to the beginning of the story and its high society slights and nuances. I am not ashamed to admit that I gasped out loud and covered my eyes a few times during this film, but when I wasn’t peering through my fingers I was loving every second (okay, there was part of me that was loving it with my eyes covered, too). The costumes were sublime, the setting can’t be topped, the cinematography was spookily fantastic and the acting was top notch. If you are a fan of the “Vicwardian” era and have any stomach for horror at all, SEE THIS FILM.