The Director’s Cut: The Romantic Tale of ‘Crimson Peak’

Tara Couglin ’19
Contributing Writer

Marketed in trailers as a haunted house story, Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” is less concerned with terrifying its audience than it is with enticing them with the subtle eroticism of Victorian romance. In a sense, it is a return to the genre of Gothic Romance; every inch of the frame seems to prove that. From the jewel-toned silk dresses to the candlelit ballrooms, “Crimson Peak” is an unabashed love letter to Brontë, du Maurier and even Austen, showing the audience once again that del Toro is a visionary filmmaker who can conjure life into any fantastical story.

Taking place in America and England, the film stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, a young aspiring writer who refuses to let the Victorian restrictions of her time limit her writing to mere romantic fluff. Ever since the death of her mother, she has been far more interested in telling ghost stories.

Her independence and subtle feminist leanings make her an outcast with the women of her social class, but they also make her a product of interest and admiration with the men in her life, including her doting father (Jim Beaver) and the amiable and handsome Dr. McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). It is the dashing English aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), however, who soon captures Edith’s heart and vivid imagination. Visiting America with his austere sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Thomas and Edith soon fall in love and get married. Thomas then whisks her away to Allerdale Hall, which is the film’s titular location. It isn’t long, however, before ghosts appear and Lucille becomes more threatening, causing Edith to realize that she needs to discover more about the family she’s married into.

While the average filmgoer may be disappointed by the lack of scares that were implied by the film’s trailers, one can’t help but be entranced by the film’s unabashed sincerity. From Hiddleston’s Byronic hero to the pure-hearted heroine walking down the somber hallways with a candelabra, the film relishes the archetypal elements found in gothic novels. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the lavish Allerdale Hall. With a set design by veteran, Tom Sanders, the film’s haunted house is a character in itself and will undoubtedly become a visual feat studied in many film courses to come. Monstrously large with a multitude of hallways and staircases, Allerdale Hall, with its decaying gothic beauty and mysterious atmosphere, is a world all its own.

All three leads do a commendable job in their roles and inhabit the story and characters seriously. Hiddleston uses his refined intensity and gentle demeanor to embody his character. Wasikowska, whom I’ve always found to be somewhat wooden in her roles, is quite good as the virginal heroine who must uncover the mysteries of Allerdale Hall. The standout performance of the film, though, belongs to Chastain, who plays Thomas’s cold and hostile sister Lucille. With her old-fashioned beauty and airy British intonations, Lucille’s refinement and lack of hospitality toward Edith do little to belie the icy menace underneath. However, while the actors do a fine job, one still can’t help but wish they had more endearing or memorable traits, like those found in Guillermo’s earlier film “Hellboy.”

While many critics are praising the movie for its sumptuous visuals and gothic horror, the film likely will not connect with the average filmgoer, which is understandable when a trailer offers horror, but the film delivers an old-fashioned romance. That being said, the film as a whole is an enjoyable treat that harkens back to old Hollywood. It’s just better not to go into it expecting “The Haunting” or “The Woman in Black.” It’s more like “Pride and Prejudice” …  and ghosts. No zombies, though. Maybe next year.

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