review

REVIEW: Crimson Peak

November 06, 2015Saskia C.

Ever since Guillermo Del Toro's Gothic romance Crimson Peak was announced - ages ago, it seems -  I have been anticipating its release, running my grabby hands all over whatever new trailer or photo or interview was released. Two weeks ago the final product was finally ready to be seen by the public. Naturally tickets were ordered as soon as possible. Writing a review was delayed up until now since there were quite a few things that needed to sink in properly. I have also been incredibly busy in the past few weeks but mentioning that would probably kill the intellectual vibe I've got going on here.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the film (as if!), Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowka), a young but ambitious writer living with her father (a typical self-made man) in 19th century America. The course of daily life changes quite suddenly when Thomas and Lucille Sharpe come into her world; before she's had time to let it all sink in, her life takes some unexpected turns and she weds Thomas, having fallen in love with his kind personality and impeccable English ways. Edith then moves to England to live with her new husband in his family home, Allerdale Hall. The mansion is eerily beautiful, despite its state of decay but still, Edith feels something isn't quite right; she suspects that the house holds a horrible secret and she is out to discover it.

As already becomes blatantly clear from the synopsis, Crimson Peak is a Gothic romance if ever there was one. Luckily, Del Toro has refrained from slavishly following the canvas of the Gothic novel. Edith is not your everyday heroine. She's an ambitious woman with an interesting personality, and not quite as naive as your typical Gothic heroine. She also doesn't swoon quite as often. Thomas Sharpe, on the other hand, is the perfect love interest. I have no doubt that casting Tom Hiddleston, a literal Perfect Human Being, was deliberate and meant to shape the viewer's expectations. Even though, as a viewer, you wish Edith nothing but the best (Wasikowska plays a very likeable heroine), you know that everything is far too perfect for this to end well (and not only because there's more than an hour of film left).

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Something else that is far too perfect and that simply must be discussed, is the general look of this film. Not only do the cinematography and the set look amazing, the costumes also fit in perfectly - I dare you not to drool over those suits and dresses. The aesthetics of Crimson Peak are not just pretty looking, they are also an active component in the narration of the story. Edith is the beautiful butterfly whereas Thomas and Lucille embody the black moths. There is a lot of play with contrasts (which is something I get far too nerdy about) and the amount of references and intertextuality is so high that I'm sure I'll need to watch the film another few times before I get it all. For instance, Thomas' love declaration sounds quite close to a conversation Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester once had; the literature nerd in me is as pleased as punch.

However, no matter how hard it is, I must be critical as well. Even though I adored the aesthetics, the acting (Jessica Chastain's work definitely steals the show) and the intertextuality, even I have to admit that the plot of Crimson Peak is disappointingly thin. The genre does not excuse much (there are at least as many decent plots in Gothic fiction as there are empty ones); there could have been more. The plot twist was not entirely predictable but the ending definitely was. The worst descriptor I could give for it is 'generic', which is, in my humble opinion not something you want a thrilling Gothic romance to be.

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All in all, Crimson Peak offered a slightly more modern take on the Gothic romance with a likeable heroine, stunning cinematography and interesting dialogue. From the very start, it was clear that there was more to this film than what could be seen on the surface. All of that makes it that more disappointing that the plot was lacking; there was more to be explored there and they could have gone deeper. Nonetheless, even though the story was wafer-thin, Crimson Peak will definitely linger among my favourite films from now on, even if purely for the atmosphere. Hopefully other directors and writers will feel inspired by Del Toro's efforts and a true revival of Gothic fiction will occur. A girl can dream, right?

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2 comments

  1. I absolutely loved this movie. I went to see a pre-screening of it, and when it ended, the people around me kept saying "but it wasn't scary!" Well, apparently it had been advertised as Horror, which is a mistake. I agree that the plot was slightly predictable, but I don't think it had much of a choice. The movie was supposed to hearken back to Hammer Horror, and it left me feeling with the same mesmerized feeling I used to have when I started reading Gothic novels (which got me into literature). It is genre fiction as opposed to just literary fiction, so it had the constraints that went along with that. Even so, I loved that Wasikowska's and Hiddleston's characters were not predictable, and I was able to connect with them. For me, characters are more important than plot. I feel like the film did exactly what it set out to do, and I loved it.

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  2. I completely agree! It was so beautiful to look at, the acting was impeccable, and I loved analyzing the visuals, but the plot was such a let-down. I really wish many more story points would have been developed (like the spirit photograph that was mentioned by Dr. Alan [Charlie Hunnam] at the beginning that gave me hope that it would feature later in the film, but it was never spoken of again! What a waste! Or countless other plot points..). I would definitely watch again for the stunning visuals, but, wow, what a wasted opportunity to make a truly memorable gothic film.

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