*Potential Spoiler Warning*
The issue with these Gothic horror films is that they take a little while to get to their point. Walking into the theater, we are all aware (or at least under the impression) that yes, we are seeing a ghost story, and it’s going to take place in this crumbling little manor house called Crimson Peak. That’s been established by everything we’ve seen about the movie so far. However, it takes half of the movie for characters to even arrive at Crimson Peak, and as the main character of this tale tells us, there are ghost stories, and there are stories that just happen to have ghosts in them. This happens to be the latter.
The story opens with Edith Cushing (played by Mia Wasikowska) explaining how ever since her mother died when she was little, she’s been able to see ghosts (though she hasn’t seen any since her mother’s ghost visited her and warned her to beware of Crimson Peak). Years later, Edith is an aspiring writer who is constantly turned down because her work is not ‘feminine enough’ (“They want me to write a romance!” She says, extremely scandalized, since her work does involve ghosts), living with her father (Jim Beaver, no stranger to the paranormal) and being adorably blind to the attentions of childhood friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). Though she is shown to be extremely independent and unconcerned with balls and marriage, she falls under the spell of Thomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston- apparently director Guillermo del Toro’s first choice for the role was Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s starting to seem like if a role calls for dark, brooding, attractive Englishman, you get either one or the other. Cumberbatch not available? Oh let’s get the other one), an aristocratic Englishman who has come to America with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, boy she is having a busy year) to seek loans from Edith’s father for an invention to harvest clay from deep within the earth.
Sharpe begins reading Edith’s work and praising her, immediately catching her in his web. When an unfortunate accident befalls Mr. Cushing, Sharpe marries Edith and takes her away to his manor home in England, Allerdale Hall- otherwise known as Crimson Peak, for the red clay beneath it. Edith begins to be besieged by ghosts in the home, and though Lucille insists that she stays, Edith begins to realize there is more going on in the house that she had originally thought.
This movie takes its sweet time to get us to the heart of the action- for those who read my two paragraphs above and thought “why is it taking so long to get to Crimson Peak? Isn’t that the point?”, that was my exact thought process during the actual movie. The phrase “Crimson Peak” is not defined until halfway through the movie and ghosts don’t start creeping in for a little more after that, excluding Edith’s mother in the beginning.
This does, however, give us time to used to what the actors have to give us in the film. Wasikowska’s character can be a little frustrating at times- she spends the first fifteen minutes or so convincing us of her independence, only to almost immediately fall for the charms and into the arms of the dark, broody Englishman she meets? Not cool girl- but she has come a long way since Alice and Wonderland (2010) and she’s certainly no stranger to this gothic, romantic period film feeling that she carries to us with grace. Hiddleston is also no stranger to this time period, and even though it’s really easy to see through his intentions (really easy, like it’s really sort of sad that Wasikowska’s character couldn’t see through it since she’s given as kinda smart), he still sweeps us up like he’s done with Edith- he’s just too damn charming.
The real player in this game is Chastain, whose elder sister role of Lucille is delightfully sinister, even more than the ghosts that the movie tries to make you believe are the scary ones. She plays with a calm facade with rage and possession bubbling beneath the surface, just enough that you don’t know what she wants from Edith (or from the audience) but you know well enough that you don’t want to be near her when she blows (particularly with a pan of food or a knife in her hand).
When we do finally reach Crimson Peak, it’s a little disappointing. When introduced to the crumbling building, my immediate reaction was “I think that is the exact same staircase from The Woman in Black (2012). That mirror looks really familiar too…” I get that horror houses, particularly gothic, Victorian horror houses, all look sort of similar. Part of me feels like, though, if I were to put the two housing plans next to each other, there would be quite a few similar points. The scenery was slightly redeemed with the excellent hole in the ceiling right over the middle of the entryway (I couldn’t help but wonder how much shoveling these siblings had to do during the winter) and the continual falling of something, be it rain or leaves or snow. The basement is also a nice setting for a showdown, with vats of clay all over and open, just waiting for someone to fall in and drown.
The ghosts are also a little disappointing, simply because I was expecting a great deal more from and of them. That’s really the problem with this movie, it was not advertised very well- commercials places far too much emphasis on the story being a ghost story, rather than just a story with ghosts being in it. When they do come on the screen they are interesting to look at, but they don’t put as much fear in me as I had hoped, since it’s clear pretty early on that they are not really the threat you’re supposed to be scared of.
What the movie lacks in paranormal scare, it does make up for in violence- I was visibly cringing during the death of Mr. Cushing, it was so wonderfully violent. And when it came to the final half hour or so, I was definitely on the edge of my seat because even though the rest of the plot was sort of expected and predictable, I wasn’t entirely sure how it would end, and it did make me want to know. Simply put, you should not go and see this movie because you want to see a horror film, because you will be disappointed. You should, however, go and see this movie because you want to see a slightly paranormal thriller- you should see it when you want to see a story with ghosts, but not necessarily about them.
For those of you who want to watch movies for Halloween but don’t want to be super scared, I think you could probably handle this. Just be prepared for some blood.