I finally got around to seeing Crimson Peak, a film deeply steeped in the Gothic literature tradition of its predecessors that stretch all the way back to The Castle of Otranto up to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
Many people complained the film wasn’t scary and that it didn’t constitute a horror film, which is what it was marketed as. There’s an endless debate about Gothic literature and its place in the horror genre, which I’m not going to get into, but others viewed it as a Gothic romance with spooky undertones, which I would agree with.
I love much of Guillermo Del Toro’s work as a director. I’m a huge fan of the Hellboy films, loved Pan’s Labyrinth and generally dig his aesthetic and his approach to concepts and themes. One notable exception for me was his recent remake of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (DBAOTD), which was just…yeah.
Interestingly enough, DBAOTD is, like Crimson Peak, a haunted house story that follows most of the tropes of that ever-popular subgenre of horror fiction. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with Crimson Peak but went into it with an open mind. I’m also fond of several of the actors, including the leads Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska having enjoyed many of their previous films so I was curious.
Crimson Peak definitely follows most of the standard tropes of Gothic literature–it’s got a plucky young (and blonde) heroine, a brooding/dreamy/swoonworthy intriguing baronet to fill the role of the Byronic hero and a sprawling estate that is decaying more every day but has a sort of beauty in its decadent state.
Even those who didn’t like the film because they said it wasn’t scary enough or it wasn’t to their liking did agree that the visuals of the film were stunning. The imagery of crimson and blood everywhere was a bit too heavy-handed for me at times or kind of made me want to say “Okay, seriously, symbolism, we get it” more than a few times. In spite of that, I think the film presented some amazing architecture and the house itself had very unique features, including the large moths that could be found everywhere.
Although I could predict most things that were about to happen, or wasn’t surprised with any of the ‘big reveals’ of the film, I still found it to be a fun ride. I did feel like some of the characters did need a bit more fleshing out to make a more direct impact on the viewer, but I found the performance of the actors to be effective. Tom Hiddleston in particular did a masterful job of playing with the viewer’s emotions as we questioned his intentions and wanted to believe him and his seeming earnestness and vulnerability but weren’t so sure if we could trust him because of some of his more sinister actions.
Although I do think Jessica Chastain’s character, Lucille, had shades of being somewhat interesting, she came across as a touch one-dimensional and melodramatic for my tastes–although Gothic fiction is supposed to be hammy and melodramatic by nature, so there’s that.
I did like some of the role reversals in the story, particularly with Edith rebelling against some of the more standard tropes of what female protagonists usually do in these types of stories, but she followed the formula fairly closely, which functioned fine in the context of the film.
Overall, I would say if you’re a fan of Gothic literature and go into viewing this film with an open mind, you might be surprised at how much you like it. Rather than viewing it as a masterpiece, I would view it more as a nice confection or as a love letter to the Gothic genre so if you’re interested in seeing it, give it a go and you might be surprised at what you think.