- Movie Rating -

Crimson Peak (2015)

| October 20, 2015

The man at the publishing house looks quite amused when he finishes reading Edith’s manuscript. She’s just written a most unromantic ghost story that she hopes to have published. “Ghosts are a metaphor for the past,” she says, and to us this seems like a simple throwaway statement until we reach the finish line of Crimson Peak and come to the realization that this statement means more than she could ever know.

The ghosts Crimson Peak make their appearance as specters, mournful souls trapped by a sudden and frightful unfinished chapter to their lives that is preventing them from moving on. Yet, this is not their story. The manifestation of ghosts have more than one meaning, not just for the dead trapped between worlds, but for a few of the living whose soul and humanity have been drained by the unspeakable acts they’ve committed – acts that have an unfortunate habit of repeating themselves.

We’re introduced to bookish Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) an unmarried woman in turn of the century New York whose focus in life is not on landing a rich husband but on following in the footsteps of the great Mary Shelley. She wants to be the author of a book that is just as polarizing as Frankenstein, and while the men suggest that she write something a bit more romantic while the women sneer “Jane Austin died a spinster.” Edith retorts “I’d rather be Mary Shelley and die a widow.” In spite of this, she has no real interest in a husband, and it is only then that she meets the courtly Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) whose smoldering eyes touch her reluctant heart.

Thomas declares his intentions, but of course there’s a complication. Edith’s father (Jim Beaver) disapproves of Thomas, and goes so far as to engineer a permanent separation. He sees something in Thomas and his spinster sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) that seems unsavory. We sense it too. There’s something in these two that gives us a bad vibe. Edith doesn’t see it and pursues the romance anyway.

From here I can reveal no more without digging into spoiler territory. Without giving too much away, it can be said that Thomas eventually takes Edith back to Allerdale Hall, his family’s English estate, an ungodly looking manor that seems to have risen from the depths of Hell itself. Thomas is not shy about telling her that the place is falling apart. A gaping hole in the roof lets in the snow and the leaves, while moist red clay under the foundation bubbles up like blood. Allerdale (which is nicknamed Crimson Peak for that reason) is a festering manifestation of all the evil that has happened there. Like a den of the underworld, Allerdale’s halls seem to have no floor plan. Worse, it’s in the middle of nowhere – we’re told with dread that the manor is a four-hour drive from the nearest town.

Something’s afoot here that del Toro is slow to reveal, and that’s the greatness of Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro is in no hurry to tell this story. He has the patience and the intelligence to tell this story as it is revealed (and there is a LOT to reveal), he doesn’t give us a point to follow as a through-line, rather we follow Edith’s adventure step-by-step. Del Toro has no interest in throwing ghosts at us, he’s smarter than that. This is a ghost story that happens to have ghosts in it. He restrains his visual effects to a few key scenes so that we don’t feel overloaded – he’s more interested in the story than in the effect. His productions design is breathtaking, creating a domicile that is manifest to the cruelty of the human heart. We sense that Allderdale Hall was once a glorious place, but has weakened into a hulking shadow of its former self. The place is a spectral apparition all its own.

Del Toro’s production crew have don’t a brilliant job creating Allerdale as a living, breathing monstrosity, a house of creaking doors, banging pipes, and rotten wood, it becomes a character by itself. Its bubbling red clay is a symbol of the evil here, as if Satan were determined to pull the house back into the Earth. But what is best is that Del Toro doesn’t lean on these visual treats. His story is front and center, and he suggests that the haunting is not separate from the evil deeds of the living.

Crimson Peak may not be for everyone. It is slow and deliberate on the delivery (the first half feels like a Merchant-Ivory confection) and often there is more effect than conclusion. It’s the kind of movie that is difficult to describe without spoiling too much. You’re reminded of the kinds of movies that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and Vincent Price use to make, and that’s a good trek to follow. When most horror movies want to manufacture terror, here is the rare modern movie that wants to creep under your skin.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Horror