“But the horror…the horror was for love. The things we do for love like this are ugly, mad, full of sweat and regret. This love burns you and maims you and twists you inside out. It is a monstrous love, and it makes monsters of us all” – Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak (2015)
One February night in grad school, it occurred to me, randomly, that I had never seen Crimson Peak (2015) by Guillermo del Toro. I remedied that by borrowing a copy from the Ohio University library; it soon became one of my favorite films of all time. Reflecting classic imagery and story elements of Gothic romances, this beautiful film opened my perspective to new forms of storytelling and art direction in horror films.
The story begins with Edith Cushing as a child on the night of her mother’s funeral. A terrifying apparition bearing a resemblance to her mother comes to her while alone in her bedroom. The figure warns Edith to beware of Crimson Peak, a name that means nothing to her until much later in the story. The film fast-forwards to Edith as a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) in 1901 Buffalo, New York, on her way to present the manuscript of her first novel for publication. After a disappointing meeting with her potential publisher, Edith meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an inventor and miner of red clay from England. He immediately shows interest in her writing, which sparks their connection. Following the sudden and violent death of her father, Edith and Thomas marry and return to the Sharpe estate of Allerdale Hall (also called Crimson Peak for the deep reddening of snow that occurs from the clay in the earth). Joined by Thomas’ overbearing sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), in their crumbling family home, Edith must adjust to her new life as well as the tortured spirits that have begun to appear to her from the shadows.
When it comes to the romance in the story, Edith’s character offers something refreshing for viewers like me who came to Crimson Peak for the spooky stuff. From our very first meeting of the adult Edith, we see that her passion lies in her writing and providing for herself from her work. She does not need a relationship, but she pursues one when it feels right. Even after they are married, Edith remains independent and does not define herself by her relationship. After her encounters with the ghosts of Crimson Peak, she looks beyond her love for Thomas to discover the truth of her new home and family. Although Thomas had darker intentions with his courting of Edith at first, their love is mutual and true by the end. This proves to be Thomas’ demise, but his sacrifice at the hands of his jealous sister saves Edith’s life (not to mention her everlasting soul) in the end.
One of my favorite features of the Gothic style is the role of the setting as an additional character in the story. Crimson Peak itself is a ruin of a house that is sinking into the ground from which Thomas mines their only source of livelihood. A large hole in the roof opens the house to the outside world. As the film progresses, snow falls through this opening and collects in the center of the house (my textual-analysis brain loved this detail). The cultural influences of the time indirectly bring Edith and Thomas together in New York and further dictate the interactions between and freedoms of the characters in this particular story. Check out this interview with Tom Hiddleston below, who does a much better job of explaining this stuff than I can (you are welcome):
Crimson Peak has been one of my must-watch Valentine’s Day movies for the past few years. Its portrayal of romance is genuine, its nuances and challenges elevated by the saturated Gothic style by which it is delivered in this film. Not only is this film visually stunning and suspenseful to the very last second, but it also portrays varying struggles and enjoyments of humanity in deliciously dark ways.
If for nothing else, watch it to listen to Tom Hiddleston talk. Trust me.
Until next time,