31 Days of Horror: Film #21 CRIMSON PEAK
In the time leading up to Crimson Peak’s release, director Guillermo del Toro stressed the fact that the film was a gothic romance, not a horror film. I had thought he was just being picky about genre classification. Turns out, yeah, he was right on. Crimson Peak has its fair share of scares and violent deaths but it is much more of a gothic romance than a horror film. It’s more along the lines of Jane Eyre and Rebecca than House on Haunted Hill or The Shining. So while the trailer may be misleading – a horror film in October is an easier sell than a gothic romance in any month – does that hurt the film any? Not really, no. If you come expecting ghosts, you’re gonna get them. If you come hoping for suspense and mystery, you’ll get that, too. It just adds a romance to the mix.
The main character Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is a writer with hopes of having her work of fiction published. The story involves ghosts (Edith herself has seen ghosts in her youth), but Edith insists that it’s not a ghost story. “Ghosts are a metaphor for the past,” she explains. Guillermo del Toro uses ghosts in the same way for his film, as a metaphor or a lingering trace of the past. Simply because there’s a ghost in the story does not necessarily make it a “ghost story.”
Edith marries the mysterious stranger Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and moves into his English mansion which is shared with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, who is excellent in her supporting role). Something’s not quite right about the Sharpe family and the house is incredibly creepy. It’s not long before Edith is seeing ghosts, suspecting her new husband of dark deeds, and fearing for her life.
Crimson Peak is an absolutely gorgeous film. Every shot has an idea behind it. One of the things about Guillermo del Toro is that he loves monsters and ghosts and he manages to find something beautiful where others would only see something horrifying and disturbing. Whether by beautiful production design or a visionary use of color, the film is simply amazing to look at.
Until now, Guillermo del Toro’s mature, artistic films and his blockbuster crowd-pleasers had been separated by a language barrier. His Spanish language films were more thought-provoking and adult, with The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth still representing his very best work. His English language films were comic book movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy or monster movies like Pacific Rim and Mimic. I’m not knocking his American productions – far from it – but there is a distinctive difference in tone between his Spanish and his English films, even though they were all clearly made by the same artist. Crimson Peak bridges that gap. This film is more like his Spanish films (most notably The Devil’s Backbone), with dark drama and a slow-burn pace instead of the explosions and fight scenes that populate most of the director’s Hollywood productions.
I really liked Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro remains one of my favorite directors. . . partly because he tells the kind of stories that I want to tell. Crimson Peak is a beautifully made film and one of the year’s very best.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
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