The reason horror movies continue to get made is that people love the thrill of being scared. It’s why people have told ghost stories around campfires since the beginning of people. Personally, I’m not all that fond of being scared, but I enjoy a horror movie from time to time provided it has something else going on - meaning, it’s not a straight-up horror, or filled with too much unnecessary gore (looking at you, Saw movies).
I do adore Guillermo del Toro. In case you are unfamiliar with him – he’s a Mexican director, famous for Cronos, Mimic, Devil’s Backbone, Blade 2, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2, Pacific Rim, and the TV show the Strain – which you should be watching…basically it takes his creepy-tongue vampires from Blade 2 and giving them a plague-y origin story. He is an incredibly visual director who loves big, creepy-beautiful, practical effects with great stories. Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect example of this – it’s an adult fairy tale, and if you haven’t seen it – you really should.
In Crimson Peak, we are introduced to Edith Cushing at her mother’s funeral in 1850ish Buffalo, New York. Her adult self gives us a voice-over letting us know she has always been able to see ghosts, since her mother passed when she was 10 – then came back that night to warn Edith “Beware of Crimson Peak!”
Later, as Edith is attempting to become a published novelist, and encountering lots of good-old 1800s, era “But you’re a Woman!” friction, her father Carter is approached by an English businessman, Thomas Sharpe (a baronet) who is in town to try to get funding for a machine he has invented to mine the red clay that his ancestral home sits on. Apparently the clay is good for all kinds of things, but has been difficult to mine lately. Carter turns him down, but that doesn’t stop Thomas from picking Edith up to come with him to a local … ball? Dance party?
I missed the reason for the party, but Edith wasn't going to go, much to the dismay of her father-approved doctor friend, Alan McMichael. All the local ladies are there in their finery, preparing to try to woo Thomas Sharpe – after all, he’s a Baronet! In fact, one of them is convinced he’s going to dance with her, when in fact he picks Edith to dance with, much to the dismay of his sister, Lucille Sharpe. They have a great time demonstrating a proper waltz for everyone and going on several dates afterwards. We very quickly learn that the Sharpes are up to no good, as Carter hires a Mr. Holly to do some digging on them. Carter attempts to bribe them to go away, and break Edith’s heart. Thomas does, but unfortunately, someone also kills Carter in his ‘athletic club’. Edith has to go to another funeral – and sure enough, her mother’s ghost shows up to warn her again, but she doesn’t put any pieces together, and instead falls for Thomas’s apology letter.
Cut to months later (maybe?) and she’s just married Thomas and heading back to his home, Allerdale Hall in England, where he and Lucille live. The house is falling apart, and the red clay that the land sits on is seeping up into the house causing it to slowly sink.
Lucille gets really creepy really fast – refusing to share her giant set of keys (it is a huge set - she can't possibly know where they all go) and insisting that Edith drink her tea, but not wander around the house, and definitely not go in the lower levels. Edith starts to see ghosts pretty rapidly – including one with a cleaver in its head in the bathtub – one that pulls itself out of the floor and crawls after her down the hallway screaming, and one that seems to just be floating.
She also eventually learns that the house is referred to as Crimson Peak by those who come by to work on the clay mining, because the red seeps up through new snow, making the house look like it’s drowning in blood. If only she had put that together and had heeded her creepy ghost mother’s warning!
The ghosts eventually lead Edith to explore the house, including the weird lower level that seems to have wells filled with the red clay in a liquid state, as well as some other creepy evidence. She also finds some wax cylinders and a gramophone, so she can listen to them – they help to reveal the nefarious history of the Sharpes, and as Dr. McMichael comes to take her away after consulting with Mr. Holly – things swiftly go from bad to worse – don’t get too attached to the dog.
Del Toro has described this movie as a Gothic Romance, and I would agree. Once Edith describes the novel she is writing in the beginning of the movie as a love story, in which there happens to be a ghost – it occurred to me that is what Crimson Peak is as well. Yes, there are some serious jump-scares, and yes – the ghosts are creepy as hell, but the rest of the movie is essentially a love story between Thomas and Edith, with his sister Lucille getting in the way. No spoiler there, she makes it obvious from the first scene she’s in that she’s the villain. The movie looks amazing, Allerdale Hall is beautiful, and while the hole in the roof is impractical – it makes the house more beautiful on film because there are always leaves or snowflakes falling down into the main entryway that is surrounded by gorgeous gothic staircases. The costumes are lovely, and really extensive – I couldn’t help but think when Thomas came to get Edith for the party that it would take her two hours to get on the clothes needed for a party of that level! Most of the actors seem to really enjoy the environment and the roles.
- Mia Wasikowska, who I had previously only seen in the horrible Alice in Wonderland remake, does a decent job, but honestly felt a little flat from time to time. Also – not her fault, but there was a lot of me saying, “Don’t drink the tea!”, “Don’t go into the basement!” “Don’t go walking around at night by yourself holding only a couple of candles!” Of course, that’s pretty standard for a well-put together horror movie, so I suppose that makes sense.
- Jessica Chastain stole the movie for me – as the dastardly Lucille, her British accent was pretty great, and she seemed to really relish playing the cold and cruel Lucille. She fit the look of the house, and did an amazing job.
- Tom Hiddleston as Thomas didn’t really do anything you hadn’t seen him do before, but it was easy to see why Edith was so charmed by him. And yes – his behind gets a couple of shots in their sex scene. Hurrah for the pointless male butt shot and no female nudity!
- Charlie Hunnam, a del Toro vet from Pacific Rim, plays Dr. McMichael, and listen, after many years of Sons of Anarchy, his American accent is still terrible. Why not just let him play an Australian doctor? That would have been fine! Aside from that, I thought he was great – I just wish he had caught on to the the Sharpes’ plan a little quicker, but hey – he did what he could!
- Jim Beaver plays Carter Cushing, and I really enjoyed the scene where he first meets Thomas and denies him his funding – comparing his own well-worn hands to those of Thomas, which had never really seen a hard day’s work.
- PacRim vet Burn Gorman plays the enigmatic Mr. Holly – he was really wonderful and seemed to really enjoy that he found some condemning evidence against the Sharpes.
- Jonathan Hyde – who is currently the most evil human on the Strain – plays Ogilvie, Edith’s boss, who tells her that she has lovely feminine handwriting, which immediately makes her type the rest of her novel.
- Bruce Gray plays Ferguson – Carter’s lawyer, who chimes in way too late with his misgivings about Thomas Sharpe.
- Leslie Hope plays Alan’s mother, and basically does her best to channel the wicked step-mother from Cinderella as she continuously puts Edith down, especially after Thomas chooses Edith instead of her daughter.
- All the ghosts are played by del Toro regular Doug Jones. They were all Doug in prosthetics and makeup – then they had just enough CGI layered over them to make him either see-through, floaty, or crawling up through the floor creepy. If you’ve seen any of del Toro’s movies, Doug is almost always the creature, and the first time a ghost pops up in this movie – Edith’s mother – you can recognize Doug’s hand motion as she grips Edith’s arm. He’s an accomplished mime, and is exceptionally delicate with his finger movement.
The movie was lovely, and the ghosts were well done, but the story was a little weak and there were an awful lot of strange circle wipes/fade outs that didn’t make any sense to me. It was pretty easy to figure out the Sharpes were up to no good, and what exactly that no good was. Of course, it wasn’t a murder mystery – at no point are you fooled into thinking that the Sharpes are good people, the story lies in Edith’s falling in love with Thomas anyway – and if her love is enough to bring him back from his sordid past. Again, the ghosts are really just a small piece of the story – and they help steer Edith to the right conclusion. Also - the costumes are astounding - if you like Victorian costuming at all - you will love them. Personally, I couldn't deal with that level of puffy sleeve and fancy embellishments.
7 out of 10 – gained points for the look of the movie, it really is stunning and worth seeing on the big screen just for the visuals. Lost points for the creepiness of the Sharpes – yes, whatever you think they’re up to – they are…they’ve got 6 or 7 horror movie standard villain moves in their back pockets, and they’ve done them all! Gained points for the ghosts finally being helpful after Edith tells them she needs their help. Lost points for the dog not making it. Spoiler alert – the dog does not make it.
Bonus Video 1: I always liked Mimic – it’s a standard subway-tunnel monster movie with a del Toro twist.
Bonus Video 2: November 2nd is Dia de Los Muertos – celebrate this year by watching last year’s animated Book of Life that del Toro produced. It’s beautiful!
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews;