This is my second post for Gabriela’s Gothic Horror Blogathon. Be sure to stop by her site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself.
The more I’ve watched it, the more I have fallen in love with director Guillermo Del Toro’s film Crimson Peak. What I love most about this film is how it plays out like a meticulously crafted love letter to the gothic genre and to classic era horror cinema. There are not only homages to The Innocents(the scene where Edith explores the house with her candlestick holder), The Changeling(the wheelchair and the ball scene) and Jane Eyre(Edith and Thomas’s relationship and the scene where Thomas says their hearts are linked) to be found in the film, but the film also features all of the established Gothic tropes but presents them to us in new and interesting ways. There’s also homages to Hitchcock’s Notorious to spot too(the poisoning, the importance of keys etc).
Although primarily described by many as being a horror film, you will find that there is so much more going on in Crimson Peak than jump scares, gore and ghosts.Perhaps this explains why the film unfortunately did so poorly at the box office upon release. It was marketed as a traditional horror film, when in actuality it really isn’t a horror film at all. In fact I view this as more of a Gothic mystery/romance with moments of horror, rather than an outright horror flick.
I also like how the horror elements in the film are a mix of supernatural scares, slasher horror and Giallo horror. When violent and shocking moments occur in this film they don’t half impact the viewer, much more so than such scenes might if similar scenes were occurring throughout the film every few minutes.
I’ve seen people describe this film as being boring, too talky, or just not scary enough. Their loss I say. This is a very rewarding and deep film if you give yourself over to it and it is even more so if you are a lover of all things Gothic. Crimson Peak is a beautifully crafted, dark, and eerie Gothic masterpiece. Aside from the darker aspects of the plot, this is also a film about the strength and determination of women, and of the past passing into a more technological future. It is also a film which cautions us about making assumptions about someone based on their appearance(someone seemingly delicate and fragile may not be so for example), or of underestimating someone because of their background or gender. It also shows us the dark and light sides of humanity.
The two strongest and most intriguing characters in this film are women. Edith and Lucille are polar opposites of one another, and yet they are perhaps more alike than either one of them would care to acknowledge. Each woman serves to show the different paths a woman’s life can take. Both women are strong willed and determined, and neither one conforms fully to societies rules and expectations. Both prefer to live on their own terms and do what makes them happy. Edith for example would much prefer to attempt to get the stories she writes published, rather than getting married or being praised for wearing the latest fashionable gown. Both women have known pain and sorrow in their lives. Neither one is weak or helpless. Where they part ways is that Lucille is a child of the dark, whereas Edith is a child of the light. Edith enjoyed a warm and loving home/upbringing, whereas Lucille’s childhood was one of cruelty and horror.
Butterflies and moths feature heavily in the film and both serve as a symbolic link to Edith and Lucille, especially in the park scene where Lucille and Edith discuss butterflies, moths and the cruelty of nature. Lucille describes moths as being “formidable creatures to be sure, but they lack beauty. They thrive on the cold and the dark”. Edith asks her “what do they feed on?”and Lucille replies “Butterflies, I’m afraid”. In that exchange it is clear Lucille is describing herself as being like a moth and that Edith is like a butterfly who is her prey. Symbolism for these two is everywhere throughout the film.
Even the costumes of both women are symbolic, with Edith’s gowns being brightly coloured with floral designs showing her to be a giver of life, someone who is blooming like a flower.Lucille’s dresses on the other hand are black or darkly coloured and have a similar design to the walls and ceilings of her Gothic style home, these costumes show Lucille to be cold and gloomy. It’s also worth noting that Edith’s bright clothes make her look out of place in Thomas and Lucille’s world, while Thomas and Lucille’s darker clothes make them the odd ones out in Edith’s world.
I also love how for most of the film Lucille’s clothes give us the impression that she is closed up and restrained like a chrysalis, but at the end of the film, as all the secrets are slowly revealed to us, her clothing becomes looser and more revealing as the real Lucille is at last set free and the secrets within her home are brought out into the open.
The film opens in Buffalo, New York, during the 1800’s. A young girl is visited by the ghost of her mother, who warns her to beware of something called Crimson Peak. Skipping forward to the 1880’s, we find Mia Wasikowska playing the now grown up girl, the aspiring novelist Edith Cushing(surely a nod to novelist Edith Wharton and actor Peter Cushing). Edith falls in love with the mysterious engineer/inventor Thomas Sharpe(Tom Hiddleston), but her father Carter(Jim Beaver) suspects something is not quite right with Thomas and his sister Lady Lucille(Jessica Chastain), and he tasks a private detective to investigate Thomas. The detective uncovers information about Thomas(which we don’t see)which confirms he is not to be trusted. Mr. Cushing pays Thomas to break off his relationship with Edith and to leave Buffalo.
Before Thomas can leave town, Mr. Cushing is brutally murdered, and in her grief, Edith turns to Thomas for comfort. The pair eventually get married and she travels to England to live with him at the Sharpe family home of Allerdale Hall. The hall is falling apart and the red clay on which it is built seeps out of the ground like blood.
Major spoilers ahead about plot and characters!!!!
Edith soon falls ill at the hall. On top of her mysterious illness, she also has to deal with the dominating and stern Lucille. Edith is also plagued by visitations from several deformed ghosts(played by Del Toro’s regular collaborator Doug Jones, with some CGI added). Edith soon stumbles upon the same truth her late father did, but she learns the full horror of that truth(something that he did not). Edith’s only chance of rescue from the hell she finds herself in, lies in the form of Dr. McMichael(Charlie Hunnam), an old friend of her and her father. I like that Edith rescues herself to a great extent, rather than relying entirely on McMichael’s aid.
Edith discovers that Thomas has been married to three women before her and that all three of them were murdered. The ghosts are these murdered ladies and they are trying to warn Edith that she too is in danger. Thomas married all of these women to get their fortunes signed over to him. Thomas and Lucille’s father squandered the Sharpe fortune and he and Lucille are nearly penniless.
Thomas and Lucille have been in an incestuous relationship since their early teens and Lucille murdered all the other wives, and Edith’s father, after he learnt of the other marriages, and she now has the same plans for Edith. We also learn that Lucille killed her own mother. Thomas knew of the fate of his previous wives, but he did not kill them and what happened did not sit well with him at all. He didn’t love the other women, but he has now developed genuine feelings for Edith and is torn between his sister and his wife.
Thomas may well be weak in comparison to his sister, but we soon learn that unlike her he is also quite childlike and innocent. Thomas Sharpe has only been consumed by so much of the darkness, he has not become a part of it entirely. We do admire him for later eventually finding the courage to confront Lucille and try and put a stop to what they are doing. Edith has opened his eyes to a new kind of love, and she has also shown him that he can be a different person if he wants to be. I love the relationship between Thomas and Edith, because they are so tender and gentle with one another, and each finds great delight in just being near the other. Their love allows them to blot out their pain and worries for a time.
In many ways Edith is like the traditional male white knight figure who rescues the Princess in peril in fairytales. Edith becomes Thomas’s saviour. She is the pure and fresh woman who Thomas can love both emotionally and physically, without constantly being reminded of a terrible and dark past. Edith’s actions end up putting a stop to the terrible existence he has come to loathe, all be it not in the traditional happy ending some may expect when they watch the film.
I also love how Edith has her eyes opened wide to the realities of life for those who aren’t surrounded by love and lovely things, and in the process she becomes wise to the darker sides of life. She wasn’t completely naive of such things to begin with, but she could never have imagined people could endure and be a part of such awful things until she marries Thomas. At the end of the film she has a become a more worldly woman, one whom now also knows her limits of endurance and how emotionally/psychologically strong she can be. Symbolism also kicks in again at the end of the film, with Edith vanquishing darkness and the possibility of becoming twisted and evil herself. Edith’s survival reminds us that not everyone who has suffered at the hands of others will turn out to be cruel and evil themselves.
We also learn that the Sharpe children suffered a terrible childhood of abuse and pain. Their father left the family and his reckless behaviour destroyed their wealth. Their mother was cruel and abused both her children. Lucille as the eldest child tried to protect Thomas from the worst of their mother’s attacks. As they grew older they found that their only source of love and joy was to be found in each other. Their bond grew so strong that it turned into incest. Now when we learn this, it is of course sickening and disturbing, but you can understand why it happened given their situation and relationship.
I find the character of Lucille to be the most fascinating and complex of the whole film. She is very clever, dominant, strong and powerful. It is she, rather than her brother, who does the planning and the killing. She has taken the pain of her past and grown strong and untouchable because of it, she cannot be cowed or frightened any longer. She is fiercely protective of Thomas, almost to the point of being perceived as a lioness protecting her cub. She is clearly insane and dangerous too, all of which makes her quite a memorable and formidable villain.
Yet for all her darkness, and for all the pain and destruction she is responsible for, Lucille is also a victim too. She was turned into a figure of cruelty and darkness by what was done to her as a child. She also does what she does out of love for her brother. Her love and the terrible past she endure makes her more human, and I think it’s very easy to sympathise with her to some extent and to feel pity for her. Lucille also makes a very human mistake when she underestimates Edith’s abilities, seeing her as nothing more than a fragile and weak creature, rather than as her equal in strength and determination.
Crimson Peak may well be a dark film, but it is also a stunning and gorgeous feast for the eyes and ears too – from the cinematography and lighting, to the beautiful costumes, impressive set design and gorgeous and atmospheric score. I also like how the symbolism for Edith and Lucille carries over into the homes they live in. Edith’s home has plush, cosy, warm and bright interiors, with soft and expensive furnishings. Lucille and Thomas meanwhile live in a dark and crumbling mansion, a home which is a shadow of its former self. I also like how Allerdale Hall brings to mind the enchanted and mysterious castles in fairytales, with the snow and leaves falling in, the clay seeping into the house like blood, and the moths fluttering around. The attention to detail in this film is remarkable and you can see the love, time and effort all involved put into this one.
The performances are superb from the whole cast. It was nice to see the great Jonathan Hyde appear in a cameo as an arrogant book publisher. I think that Mia, Jessica, Tom and Jim Beaver deliver the best performances in the film. Mia’s performance in particular is incredible, she has to convey so much with her eyes alone and she really makes you feel what Edith is experiencing.
In my opinion this is Del Toro’s masterpiece. The film can also be seen as not only a Gothic homage, but also a homage to his own work and the themes of death, grief, fantasy, courage and horror found within his other films. This is easily one of the greatest Gothic films out there. Highly recommended to all my fellow Gothic fans.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Crimson Peak.