Specific deaths. Violent deaths. 

I like horror and most of its subgenres. However, I love Gothic horror the most. Trapped heroines, creaky houses, dashingly dangerous men, candelabras: the tropes really strike a chord with me. Some of my favorites are Rebecca, The Innocents, The Others, and now Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. The Pan’s Labyrinth director’s homage to the Gothic romance is a triumphant throwback to a remarkably under-appreciated subgenre. Starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, another terrific Gothic tale), Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), the film was written by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins.

Edith (Wasikowska) is a aspiring writer living in Buffalo. She falls for the charming Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), and decides to marry him much to the chagrin of her friend Dr. McMichael (Hunnam). Thomas takes Edith to his crumbling and sinking English mansion where he lives with his spinster sister Lucille (Chastain). Once there, Edith starts experiencing strange, horrifying visions and starts to question her sanity.

17785321-mmmainThe film is a true classical Gothic horror story; if you are looking for any sort of winking irony or satire, it isn’t here. Del Toro shows an amazing love for the genre, with painstaking detail not just in the look of Gothic horror, but the style and the language. The film is coated in sensuous mystery and intrigue. Del Toro shoots the film in the all-too rare female gaze–this is Edith’s film and we see this world through her eyes. She is an investigating, forthright character and Del Toro thankfully doesn’t undermine her as the film nears the climax. The film is so comfortable in the female gaze that I would not have been surprised if it had been directed by a woman.

That isn’t to say that Del Toro is lacking his usual visual splendor. This is one sumptuous sexy film. The sets, the costumes, the lighting–this is the kind of film that deserves a score-only soundtrack on the Blu-ray. The camerawork works well with the blocking, creating a moving, breathing world. Del Toro works with Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen (Silent Hill) on the film and their work is gorgeous. There have been some complaints about the digital photography, which is hard to ignore. It can be distracting, but the mood and the atmosphere of the film is so powerful that ultimately I didn’t mind it.

thumbnail_20731Crimson Peak has been saddled with that old nonsense phrase “style over substance.” To be honest, I think that phrase is being used here because the film is sexy in a feminine way, not in the more conventional masculine way. The details make the film work on all the senses, the sexuality feels less aggressive but rather delicate and powerful.

Mia Wasikowska, with her long hair and inquisitive eyes, is a formidable heroine. Her Edith is never a damsel in distress; she is curious and intelligent. Astute viewers will likely figure out what’s going on before she does but Wasikowska never plays dumb or naive. Edith is a classical Gothic heroine. Tom Hiddleston’s casting is perfect. He is charming, sexy, and dangerous. It’s easy to get swept up in his whirlwind courtship. I appreciate that the film keeps him as the object of desire in the film; it’s a refreshing change of pace when horror usually invokes the male gaze.

crimson-peak-11-2Charlie Hunnam gets a tough role as the typical male hero type, but Del Toro and Hunnam work together to subvert that archetype. Jessica Chastain is one of the best actresses around and her performance here is deliciously devilish as Lucille. It’s wonderful seeing the actress, who mostly plays strong heroic types, dig deep as a villain. You can tell that Chastain had a ball scheming and staring down Wasikowska. At the heart of film is the relationship between Edith and Lucille, their battle for control and life. The script should be commended for featuring many scenes that pass the Bechdel test.

Crimson Peak might bore some horror fans, as the scare scenes are mostly for atmosphere than scaring the pants off the views. The film is more spooky and haunting than piss-in-your-pants scary. Also, the ghosts in the film are of the “warn the hero” kind, not the “out to get you” kind. The film worked for me, and I can easily recommend it to those who are longing to see a old school horror genre back on the screen.

'Crimson Peak:' Glorious Romantic Gothic Horror
'Crimson Peak' is a successful recreation of the sumptuous Gothic horror story.
Rating8.5
Pros
  • Immensely detailed recreation of Gothic horror
  • Visually and aurally sumptuous
  • Terrific characters played by strong actors
Cons
  • Some viewers won't find it scary
8.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Manish first came to love horror through Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Roman Polanski's Repulsion. He still sometimes has to sleep with the TV on after catching the latest scary flick. Manish loves ghost stories, psycho-thrillers and gory horror-comedies. You can check out more of Manish's writing at his personal blog "Mathur & the Marquee" or on twitter @hippogriffrider.