Crimson Peak comes from the amazingly fantastical mind of director and producer Guillermo del Toro. Famous for his work including elements of dark fantasy and gothic horror, including the Hellboy franchise, Pan’s Labyrinth and Mama; Crimson Peak is no exception.
It stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) as Edith Curling; an aspiring female writer from the turn of the 20th century, aspiring because Edith doesn’t want to write a love story, but apparently that’s all women from 1901 are any good at writing. So alas, Edith’s book remains an unpublished transcript in the sexist, patriarchal society of 20th century America.
Edith then meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English Baronet seeking American investors for his clay-mining invention, and they fall in love quicker than you can Google what a Baronet even is. Ah, the good old days of meeting, falling in love, and marrying within a week.
Soon after moving to England with her new husband, strange things start happening in her new home, including the appearance of some of the most gruesome looking ghosts I have ever seen rendered in a film. Like, seriously, I had to look away.
Many of Guillermo del Toro’s films have had mind-blowing visuals and sets, such as the fantastical worlds of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy. Crimson Peak, although not set in a fantastical world, the same imagery is still present, mostly in the way of the Sharpe’s dilapidated mansion, Allerdale Hall. Designed of red clay bricks, the house appears to bleed as the red clay seeps through the walls and floors. The damp-ridden walls, collapsed roof, and old windows also make the mansion sound as if it’s breathing as the wind blows through it.
With these perfectly normal explanations, del Toro has created the image of a house that is alive, as if you are watching the characters inside a living, breathing, and bleeding entity.
Although Mia Wasikowska might be the heroine of the film, it’s Jessica Chastain’s performance as Thomas Sharpe’s sister Lucille that I found most compelling and impressive to watch. I mean, one scene of Jessica Chastain in a bloodied and billowing white nightgown, wielding a cleaver, screeching like a Banshee as she chases Edith is a scene that I will forever remember. I’m not ashamed to say that it terrified me.
Hiddleston’s performance might not have been as Oscar-worthy as Chastain’s, but it was a massive change of direction to his role as the trickster Loki, of Marvel fame. Instead of being the confidently cheeky villain, Thomas (Hiddleston) is a weak-minded and weak-willed man who appears to be pushed around by his older sister, Lucille (Chastain). However, it is Thomas’s kind heart and love for his wife that ultimately saves Edith’s life.
At the start of the film, Edith says of her own book, ‘this isn’t a ghost story, but a story with a ghost in it’ which is very true of the film itself. Instead of the ghosts being the main plot or element within the film, they are only used to tell a story. Also, despite the inclusion of fear-inducing ghosts and certain scenes giving me heart palpitations, I would not classify this film as a horror or anything of the sort. It wasn’t full of unnecessary jump scares (Insidious) or dependent on things flying around the room (Paranormal Activity.) Gothic, dramatic, and with the long-running mystery of the Sharpe family; I guess I’d call it a gothic mystery drama with a hint of romance… if that’s a thing.
Crimson Peak is a refreshing departure from the worn out formula of ghost films of the last few years. It doesn’t feature a ghost/demon/entity terrorising a family who have to get rid of said ghost/demon/entity, which has been the case for the last decade from 2005’s The Amityville Horror to 2015’s Sinister 2.
We will undoubtedly continue to see jump scare-filled ghost/demon/entity horror films in the years to come, so ghost films like Crimson Peak that do not follow the same old formula are welcomed with ghostly, open arms.