I’m a big fan of Guillermo del Toro. I was kind of shocked when I went back to look at his filmography to verify that statement that he hasn’t really directed that many films. His name gets slapped on a lot of stuff as executive producer, but the actual films he’s directed are really great. I love the Hellboy movies, two of the best comic book adaptations of them all, Pan’s Labyrinth is spectacular, and I have a serious soft-spot for Pacific Rim. So I was of course super excited when I heard he was making some crazy Gothic horror/haunted house flick. So last night I went to check out his latest, Crimson Peak, and while it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, I still had a good time with it. It certainly didn’t become my new favorite del Toro movie, but it was still a very interesting film. In the last year or so I’ve been trying to come into movies more blind than I had in the past. I’ll check out trailers, but that’s about it. I used to follow movies from when they were announced, checking out all the casting rumors, and sneak peaks and whatnot to the point that when I came into the movie, I pretty much knew exactly what was going to happen. Or, which is much worse, I would build my own plot for the movie in my head, then when that plot was inevitably wrong, I would feel kind of down on the actual movie, since of course I was going to like the story that I came up with more than the one that actually got made, since I specifically though up a story that appealed to me. So I kept Crimson Peak at a bit of a distance before it came out. Really all I knew about it was the trailer, which was wonderfully mysterious, more just a montage of random intriguing images. And that was really enough to sell me on the movie. And like I said earlier, the movie that I ended up seeing wasn’t exactly what I thought I was going to be seeing, but it was still very fun.
The biggest shock of this movie was that really, I wouldn’t call it a horror movie. There was certainly horror trappings, and the ghosts led to some jump scares, but over all, I hesitate to call it a horror movie. It was more of a suspense, and honestly, a Gothic Romance. I think we just saw the closest thing that we’ll ever get to a Guillermo del Toro romance movie. The mission statement of the movie was spoken pretty early in the film, when the protagonist Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is speaking with a sexist literary agent who she hopes will publish her book. He rhetorically asks her if the manuscript is a ghost story, and she corrects him that it’s just a story, that has ghosts in it. And that’s really what this movie was. There were ghosts, but they were kind of inconsequential. Like, if someone edited the ghosts out, it would still work pretty well, and just be a thriller. But let’s talk about what the movie is about.
The movie follows Edith Cushing, an outspoken and strong woman living in the late 1800’s in New York. Her mother died when she was a little girl, and then visited her later as a ghost, warning her of a place called Crimson Peak. He father is a wealthy architect, and she grows up in the high society of Albany. She’s just trying to live her life, wanting to become an author, and rejecting the expectations of her. She doesn’t want to be a typical woman of the time, even eschewing the advances of the eligible bachelor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). But then two visiting English nobles come to town, and insert themselves in the social scene. Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) are siblings who live in a rundown mansion called Allerdale Hall, where their family’s fortune came from the red clay beneath their land, which apparently makes great bricks. Sir Thomas comes to Edith’s father to get an investment in a clay mining machine that will bring his families fortunes back, and along the way starts to woo Edith. We then have the whole first act of the film which is the charming Sir Thomas getting Edith to fall in love with him, which her father disapproves. And shockingly, we know from pretty much the beginning that Thomas and Lucille are clearly up to something, we just don’t know what. Edith’s father is very against their relationship, and even bribes the siblings to leave and break Edith’s heart. They do so, but then someone, we’re led to believe Thomas, kills Edith’s father in his social club. Edith finds out, and learns that Thomas was told to break her heart, so they two get married, and she heads out to England with him, to their creepy ass house.
The rest of the movie is set in Allerdale Hall, which Edith eventually learns is nicknamed Crimson Peak because when it snows the claw seeps through the ground and makes the snow red. And holy crap is the art design of this film amazing. Every room in the house is gorgeous, and made perfectly. They’re full of dark beauty and fascinating set dressing. You could probably pause on any scene of the house, and lose yourself for a while just soaking in the ridiculous details that are put into the house. But Edith isn’t very happy with the house, since it’s falling apart and creepy as hell. She begins living with the incredibly weird Sharpe siblings, trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in the house. She begins discovering a conspiracy in the house, finding ghosts that warn her not to trust anyone, and various clues that she may not be the first woman Sir Thomas has married and brought here. The second act of the movie is just Edith wandering around figuring out that things aren’t on the level, and trying to figure out how to escape. Meanwhile, back in America Dr. McMichael has figured out that Sir Thomas is up to something as well, and starts trying to get in contact with Edith to save her. But back in Crimson Peak, things come to a head when Edith finds definitive proof that she isn’t the first woman Thomas has married, and after she finds some hidden gramophone recordings that a previous wife made, she learns that they’re just after her money, and are going to kill her.
Then the third act starts up, and the movie goes crazy. I was enjoying the movie to this point, even though it was very different than I assumed it would be. But there’s a moment in Crimson Peak were things suddenly go bannanas, and the movie became a blast. And that moment is the old Third Act Incest Reveal, where we learn that Sir Thomas and Lady Lucille are in love and engaging in some Lannister style sexual escapades. They then drop the whole ruse, and straight up try to kill Edith, throwing her off a balcony in the house down to the ground where she breaks her leg. But Dr. McMichael happens to show up and puts a damper on their plans. He binds he leg, and the Sharpe’s pretty quickly break their brief act of being normal, and try to kill the two Americans. Lucille turns out to be the brains of the operation, and stabs Dr. McMichael. Turns out Thomas actually has fallen in love with Edith, so he gets Dr. McMichael to tell him where to stab him that won’t kill him, and brings him down to the mine where he can hide the still living man. Meanwhile, Lucille tries to get Edith to sign some paperwork that will give the Sharpe’s her family fortune, but we then enter the stabbing portion of the movie, and Edith stabs Lucille in the chest with the fountain pen that her father had given her, proving that the pen is mightier than the store (ugh, I’ll show myself out). She runs off, and Thomas tells her that he’s on her side now, and that Dr. McMichael is down in the mine. Thomas tries to reason with Lucille, but she gets jealous of his love for Edith, and stabs him in the goddamn head, killing him. Lucille starts running after Edith as they try to kill each other. The chase finally ends with Edith and Lucille out in the blizzard outside the house. They slash each other up a bit, but Lucille admits that she won’t stop until either she kills Edith, or Edith kills her. It then turns out that Thomas was strong with the Force, and becomes a ghost super quickly, showing up to distract Lucille so Edith can smash her head with a shovel. With that taken care of, Edith and Dr. McMichael head off, probably vowing to never touch knives again.
This movie was pretty bonkers. The set design and mood was simply stunning, really creating a dark and creepy atmosphere that worked spectacularly with the film. I will say, some of the plotting was a little off, and kind of dragged in place. And even though I loved the insane ending with all the running around and stabbings, it kind of didn’t feel like it fit with the Gothic Romance of the beginning. It felt like two different movies that really only fit together by their cast and beautiful design. I will say that Hiddleston and Chastain turned in amazing performances, but Wasikowska and Hunnam kind of fell flat for me. They were all playing kind of amped up performances, melodramatic, but they didn’t gel right for me. There were definitely problems with the movie, but overall, I enjoyed myself watching it, even though at times I was more looking at the movie, and not listening to it.
Crimson Peak was written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, directed by Guillero del Toro, and released by Universal Pictures, 2015
Categories: Reel Talk