Crimson Peak (2015)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

Gothic romances were all the rage with the Victorians, who loved nothing more than a good ghost story. Some of literature's most chilling and shocking tales came out of this period. The hallmarks of such stories are ancient and evil houses inhabited by shadowy figures, all revolving around an innocent heroine thrust into the midst of danger.

 

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) knows that ghosts exist, because she has been visited by the spirit of her mother, who crept into her room weeks after her funeral and whispered, "When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak." Now an adult, Edith has taken her fascination with spirits and channeled it into her writing. Thwarted by editors who reject her material on the basis of her sex, Edith determines to make another go at it, this time as a male author. But her grand intentions are thwarted when she meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a visiting baron and inventor desperate to raise capital to mine the red earth from under his crumbling family property. Her father takes an immediate dislike to Thomas and his sinister sister (Jessica Chastain), but Edith swiftly falls in love.

 

Then, her father winds up dead... and before she knows it, Edith is married and whisked off to the ancestral home in England, a place with a rotting roof, a creaky elevator, a strange little dog that emerged from the moors, and ... ghosts. Shadowy figures that walk the halls... but do they mean her harm or intend to warn her? For she did not know it until after her arrival; the red dirt leaks up through the snow whenever there is a storm, forming a crimson peak.

 

No one quite knows what to make of this film, because it was billed in trailers as a horror story while it is really a Gothic romance. The style is deliberately reminiscent of early horror films, with muted coloring and elaborate sets, and a sense of nuance throughout, but for whatever reason the first half hour or so staggers through the motions. It's only after Edith is in the old house that it becomes engrossing and believable and even there, the suspense isn't heightened until nearly the end. Edith asserts early on that her book is "not a ghost story, it's a story with ghosts in it," and this is true also for the story that she is in; the ghosts are secondary events intended to lift the hair on the back of your neck, their presence not entirely explained or even consistent except in their attempts to send messages to the living. Thus, the film lies in-between a ghost story, and a Gothic romance... and I almost think one should have been eliminated. The ghosts are not so necessary as to be important, but not so unforgettable as to abandon them, so what we wind up with is a film that lacks much depth.

 

It's a shame, really, because it's an absolutely gorgeous viewing experience, with exquisite sets, costuming, and design. It feels so cold in that house that it makes the audience shudder, and the ghostly moments are well chosen and impacting. But for such complex and nuanced ideas of characters (there's much more to them than meets the eye) the story seems almost insufficient; it needs more depth and psychology. It hits us with revelations gently and then with increasing rapidity, but it's not until much later, as you think about it, that how unsettling the entire thing is sinks into you -- probably once the lights are off at home. I have mixed feelings about it, because on one hand it is satisfying on a purely entertainment level, but in other ways I feel so much more might have been done with it, in terms of fleshing out these events. I suspect it'll be a ghostly tale that grows on its audience with each repeated viewing, if only to feel a little chill run down your spine.

     
Sexual Content:
One (married) sex scene including movement and partial backside nudity (it lasts about a minute); a woman walks in and finds a man and woman in an intimate embrace (her hand is down the front of his pants); references are made to incest and a child born of incest; a woman's breasts are partly visible through her top; a ghost is naked.
 
Language:
One f-word, one abuse of Jesus' name.
 
Violence:
A man's head is bashed against a sink until it splits open / his head is caved in and gore pours out; people are stabbed repeatedly, with some bloody results (a woman is stabbed in the chest, in the hand, a man is stabbed in the chest and in the face, and he pulls the knife out slowly; a woman is hit twice and killed with a shovel). Ghosts have blood trails that float in the air.

 
Other:
Ghosts manifest in demonic-like presences throughout the house (misshapen, tormented, inhuman creatures).


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