There are times when I go see a film because I’m a film and television critic and I think it might be interesting. There are also times when I go see a film because I’m a fangirl, and frankly, I’d see anything done by certain actors or directors. Crimson Peak falls into that latter category because Tom Hiddleston is on that list. And if that’s the reason you’re considering seeing this film, let me spare you the rest of this review. Go see it. I seriously doubt you’ll be disappointed. Because Tom Hiddleston as the tall, pale romantic lead in a Gothic horror story set in the 19th century? Yeah, disappointment is not on that particular menu. Still around? Great, let’s talk about the actual film then. Crimson Peak is a Gothic horror/romance set in the late 19th century on both sides of the pond. The story revolves around Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), daughter of a rich industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver) who has built his empire from the ground up. As a result, Edith is not some upper-crust hothouse flower. Instead, she has a more common touch and wishes to be a professional writer. Her current story, she informs us and others, is one with a ghost in it. Although she describes the ghost as a metaphor, we quickly learn that she has had very real contact with the supernatural as a child in the form of her mother’s shade who apparently rose from the grave to pass on a warning to her daughter. Edith’s experiences with the other side prepare her for the fate that awaits her when she crosses paths with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a penniless British aristocrat who is seeking funding for one of his inventions, a machine that will help him reopen the clayworks that used to be the foundation (literally and figuratively) of his family’s estate. He has travelled to the United States to meet with a financial group that includes Edith’s father, in the company of his beautiful but somber sister Lucille (Jessica Chastian). Very quickly, he is paying court to Edith, and when tragedy strikes, he is there to pick up the pieces, edging out long-time but less forward friend Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) for Edith’s hand. The Sharpes return to England where Edith finds that she has married into a decaying mansion that is slowly being swallowed by the earth and which hides the secrets of the living but not for long if the dead in residence have anything to say in the matter. In other words, standard Gothic romance fare…to a point, anyway. Our heroine, for example, is cut from a slightly different cloth. In most such stories, there is a fragility to the female lead, as though mental instability is the window through which the paranormal can access our plane. Edith has none of this about her. In fact, there’s a nice bit of steel that emerges at odd moments as when a member of her social circle suggests that, if she pursues writing, she might end up a spinster as Jane Austen did. She’s rather be Mary Shelley, she retorts, for Shelley died a widow (I do wish the writers had done a bit more research here, however, as Frankenstein’s author also lived a very lonely life, pining for that lost husband). Still, by casting entirely adequate but never surprising Wasikowska (after Emma Stone backed out), director Guillermo del Toro ensures that Edith at least appears a bit on the fragile side, so she looks entirely the part. As do both Hiddleston and Chastain. There are few men better equipped physically to play 19th century aristocrat who must appear alternately dangerous and devoted. He handles the role well, through its shifting moods and motivations, and takes it seriously. Chastain likewise plays her role without slyness, the menace in her largely untempered unless in a public space. Her eventual emotional range is just as broad as her brother’s, even if it’s directed differently, and she manages to make it quite believable except during the very final moments, where the entire thing goes a bit sideways. But the most impressive character in the entire film is the house. Vast and beautifully appointed, it is now decaying, its roof collapsed in and allowing a gentle snowfall into the center of the rich, dark interior. Most of it is unsafe, Lucille warns her sister-in-law, and Edith is relegated to a small number of rooms which still bespeak a glorious family history. But it is not just another haunted castle. A ride on the elevator at its center transports Edith from the whimsical space of Thomas’s workshop in the attic, past the degraded living quarters and foyer, and down into the forbidden basement where vast and unexplained vats of red mud (?) bubble endlessly. Millions were spent to create the three story set, and the result is a house that breathes and bleeds and overwhelms the senses. Which is good because if our senses were entirely intact, we’d be sure to notice the problems with the script. Del Toro evidently began writing the script at the same time he was working on Hellboy, and tinkered with it for years, calling on Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express) for assistance. When Stone and Benedict Cumberbatch dropped out of the project and Wasikowska and Hiddleston stepped in, he rewrote the script again, and was even making changes while filming. Which likely explains some of the larger plotholes (perhaps the largest being why anyone is trapped in the house). My sister, who joined me at the theatre, charitably suggested that perhaps the problem was one of poor editing choices, but even if this were the case, a stronger script would have carried some of the larger themes consistently enough that the odd bad edit should not have created such seeming holes in the film’s logic. I do wonder, however, how much of the ghostly content ended up on the cutting room floor. The choice to use actors, in this case Doug Jones and Javier Botet, rather than go the strictly CGI route was a good one because these spectral entities are not here to frighten, for the most part, but to communicate. The physical work of both actors was very expressive and made you feel the humanity of their pained souls, even when they were covered with what appeared to be, in some cases, gore. Unfortunately, we did not get as much time with them as a premise featuring a girl who has met ghosts and writes about them might suggest. Some of the most affecting scenes involve these characters and I felt robbed to not have more time with them. What I could have done without are the moments where del Toro forgets what movie he is making. He talked a great deal in interviews about how much he loves Gothic romance, and how the film is a tribute to that. We see this in the long shots of the house surrounded by swirling snow and approached by a blood-red path, or in the ornate nightdresses Edith wanders the house in, or the glances of longing and malevolence that Thomas alternately visits on his bride. It’s even clear in the intense predictability of the story. These tales almost always go the same way and even del Toro’s variants are merely plucked from more recent versions of those same stories. What is so out of place are the moments of modern-day more slasher-type horror films that he seems to have grafted on. Like most entries in the Gothic romance genre, Crimson Peak really isn’t, Lucille excepted, that frightening. But it contains a few overly graphic moments obviously put there to sate those who mistake gore for horror. These are almost exclusively the reason for the R rating the film received (the other being Hiddleston’s ass and possibly the movie’s primary mystery) and serve primarily—for those of us who also love the genre—to disrupt the mood of the piece. And mood is a large part of the reason to enjoy such a work. And if that is what you are looking for—a rich and beautiful Gothic landscape full of lost souls (both living and dead), conflicted desire, and some of the most promising entries for the technical Oscars, this is the film for you. If you’re looking for a good scare or good script, give this one a pass. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 4 Responses Jose Antonio San Mateo October 27, 2015 I took it as the two siblings were tied to the estate spiritually or psychologically. It’s like they literally can’t escape the past. Log in to Reply LauraAkers October 27, 2015 Well, I think that’s what they wanted us to feel which works until Thomas suggests that they just leave…at which point you’re like, yeah, why wasn’t that an option years ago. Log in to Reply Shawn EH October 28, 2015 My boyfriend and I were wondering if they were somehow much older than they appear, that the house that cursed them had been sustaining them vampirishly almost. Certainly once Mr. Sharpe met his demise, his ghost was a wizened and faded creature. LauraAkers October 28, 2015 I thought that might be the case for a good portion of the England-based portion–that that’s the secret of the house and the missing wife. And perhaps, as you point out, it might be as indicated by his final appearance, though del Toro could have been clearer. 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