Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance Crimson Peak is a dark, beautiful tale of love, secrets and the power that the past can continue to hold over us, if we let it.
For those of you who read that intro and went “Gothic romance?!” don’t be alarmed. Although it’s been touted as a horror, the mastermind behind the story has confirmed that it’s indeed a dark, stylistic love story of sorts (but don’t worry, it’s definitely still way creepy). “…it came from a lifelong fascination with Gothic romance,” said del Toro about his inspiration behind the film in a recent interview. “The fact is, a lot of people confuse horror and Gothic romance. But the flavor of it, the combination of love and death, horror and beauty, is so unique. I’ve been a collector of Gothic romance novels and stories all my life, and I wanted to make one before I croaked.”
The story follows Edith Cushing(Mia Wasikowska) a young woman who aspires to be the next Mary Shelley, who quickly falls in love with, and is subsequently swept away by, the handsome and mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Sharpe is accompanied everywhere by his cold yet intriguing sister Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain); the relationship between the two and the secrets they share become the central mystery of the story. Once Edith arrives at her new home with the Sharpes, she realizes that her fairytale is over and begins piecing together a mystery that will forever change her life…if she doesn’t lose it first.
Crimson Peak has your typical romance elements: the beautiful, quiet girl who is often overlooked, the loyal friend that has been in love with her for years, the new stranger who captures her eye and heart, the whirlwind courtship…all of it. What sets the tale apart, however, is the balance maintained between the love story (the light) and the dark and scary, a balance that del Toro has shown he has a tremendous grasp on in other films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. Once scene in the movie with Cushing and Lucille sitting under a tree surrounded by dying butterflies perfectly demonstrates the balance.
The film’s setting itself adds to the overall atmosphere and the house is like a character within itself. Allendale Manor (aka Crimson Peak) is nothing resembling a warm home, with it’s walls and grounds that look like they’re bleeding, a gaping hole in the middle of the roof never leaves you wondering what the weather’s like outside, and the unsettling noises that it makes without warning. Oh, and there are actual ghosts, so there’s that.
Mia Wasikowska’s naive Edith Cushing put me back in the mind of her Alice in Wonderland character. She had the same sense of curiosity that led her Tim Burton counterpart through the many different parts of Wonderland, much as Cushing did her best to navigate the secrets of Allendale Hall. She and Hiddleston’ charming-yet-brooding Sharpe had a sweet chemistry that allowed you to believe that despite what a terrible person he was, he was still capable of genuinely loving Edith.
Jessica Chastain plays a convincingly terrifying Lady Lucille Sharpe (seriously, I had no idea she could play crazy that well). When you first lay eyes on her in the film, she’s stunning but you could immediately tell there was something else beneath the fancy clothes and beautiful face that was severely…off. We won’t spoil what that is, but we do hope that this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of Chastain taking on darker roles.
Crimson Peak is a beautiful, creepy atmospheric film, but it’s not horror. If you go in expecting a terrifying, nightmare-inducing screamfest, you’ll be disappointed, but if you go in expecting to be transported to a different time and to experience a dark fairytale of sorts, you’ll leave feeling like your money was well spent (as well as a little creeped out).
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures