Crimson Peak (2015) casts romance out of horror
|Photo Credit: Crimson Peak / Universal Pictures|
Set in the early 19th century, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a vibrant aspiring writer penning ghost stories. Her work is turned down by possible publications with editors suggesting to add a twist of romance, something she won't adhere to. When a mysterious aristocratic inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) lures her into a whirlwind romance and marriage, she is whisked away to his and his sister's (Jessica Chastain) mansion after her father's death. But, there is terrible secret surrounding her new home and life. Edith's mother visited her as a ghost with a warning to beware of Crimson Peak. It is one that she does not heed until it is too late,
Like Cushing's novel, director Guillermo del Toro's highly anticipated gothic film is not about the horror, but romance. It's hard not to fall in love with the extraordinary detail of this world exploding with color and detail. The golden and bold hues of Edith's home before Crimson Peak is like a dream-like utopia. Her costumes and home are filled with warm oranges, almost like looking at her life with rosy colored glasses as we are too. In contrast, the slab of a castle sits on a wintry slope slowly slinking into a red-clay oblivion, illuminated with grays and sharp blues. Though not a horror or scream fest, del Toro creates a creepy and beautiful false sense of security for his heroine and audience.
Crimson Peak is all about the supernatural but not really. His ninth film is a haunting exploring redemption. Edith learns about the darkness of someone and then keeps on loving them. Thomas and Lucille are trapped by their pasts, and Edith is caught in the crossfire. Her natural curiosity and warnings by her mother inspire her to lurk deeper into the shadows of their dismal home that is literally bleeding with secrets. Ghosts and supernatural phenomena are more of a catalyst rather than a tool to scare; they're creepy and visually stunning but not necessarily "jump out of your seat" terrifying. It's a dark, enchanting fairytale with an aura of fear occupying such an opulent setting.
The cast here all provides some wonderful work. Mia Wasikowska is wonderfully spunky as Edith. She brings a natural charisma as a charming and innocent ingenue. When the stacks seem up against her, she is easily someone to root for. And, Tom Hiddleston makes that both a difficult and easy task. One gaze at him and it's not a struggle to understand how easy it is to be swooned by his mystery, no matter how a puzzle he may seem. (He also just looks really great in period clothing, and yes, we see his butt in a romantic-entanglement scene.) Jessica Chastain gives an exciting and gruesome performance we haven't seen before. Her transformation as Lucille is one that won't be forgettable for a while.
Crimson Peaks' has some cracks in the foundation - mostly to do with the studios' marketing. Posters and trailers promoted Guillermo's work as more horror than romance. While the film is creepy, it's not similar to the gore-fests horror movies are like these days with. In night vision handy-cam, CGI phantoms don't grasp an unsuspecting mother or father from behind and whisk them into a dark hallway. A scary doll isn't sitting in the corner casting possession over a house. Instead, the story is purely a romance with a ghost story at its center. It's not about surprise scares but suspense, but is it enough suspense without killer thrills is up to anyone who sees it.
Personally, I loved the story and the characters. My biggest wish that some of the phantoms such as Mother and cast a bigger spell and impact to the story, but it's a fun ride nonetheless. The production is truly spell-binding, and the experience is creepy at best and a little unfrightening at its worst. The movie suffers mostly from the studios' failure to market it well. There is a fine difference between gothic horror and romance, and Crimson Peak achieves the latter. If anyone goes in expecting the former, they're bound to be disappointed. I was spared that confusion and really loved it.