Right up until the movie started, I wasn’t sure if Crimson Peak was going to be too scary for me. As I said when I reviewed the trailer, I have a markedly low bar for horror movies—even shit that’s not even horror, or that’s been universally reviled for its badness (Signs, for example) has been known to give me nightmares. But in the end, this movie was tense and had some visually terrifying moments, but was—at least to me—right in the Goldilocks zone of just creepy enough.
Spoilers for the movie below the jump.
Our protagonist, Edith, is an aspiring author and the daughter of a very successful businessman. She falls in love with a bankrupt English baronet, Thomas Sharpe, but her father is deeply suspicious of the man and his strange spinster sister Lucille, and forbids their engagement. When her father dies under strange circumstances, though, Thomas sweeps Edith off her feet and spirits her away to his crumbling estate, Allerdale Hall, called Crimson Peak because the red clay there stains the snow like blood in the winter.
That’s when the weird shit starts. Lucille refuses to give Edith copies of the housekeys on the pretense that parts of the house are dangerous and she doesn’t need to be wandering into them. Edith wakes up alone more often than not, unable to locate Thomas in the house, and is constantly approached by gruesome red ghosts who seem to be trying to communicate with her. She sneaks into the basement where the clay pits are and discovers a woman’s trunk embossed with initials she doesn’t recognize. When she and Thomas are snowed in at the post office on a run to town and are forced to spend the night, Lucille explodes on her on their return and nearly attacks her with a cookpot before writing off her breakdown on simple worry. After waking up hacking up blood, she realizes that Lucille’s been slowly poisoning her. When she’s able to break into the trunk, she discovers information about and recordings of the multiple women that Thomas had lured into marriage before her and who had then been killed by Thomas and Lucille after they’d acquired the women’s fortunes, and decides to take her fate into her own hands.
“It’s really more of a Gothic romance than a horror movie”—I’ve heard this phrase almost verbatim from like, four separate and unrelated people, but… it’s not incorrect. As I said, the ghosts are visually terrifying, both in the way they look and the way they move, but in the end they’re pretty benevolent, helping Edith to find out the truth and trying to warn her to watch out, and their spirits are put to rest when Edith finally kills Lucille. The real monster in the house is Lucille. Not to say that Thomas wasn’t clearly complicit in her schemes, but she’s his older sister and it’s obvious that she’s been controlling him since she murdered their mother when they were kids. They’re also in a deeply unhealthy incestuous relationship, but it seems almost rote for Thomas, less passionate than his relationship with Edith. It seems he wants out of his sister’s plots and her arms, having honestly fallen in love with his wife.
Edith is an incredibly feminist protagonist, in my opinion. She laments that her manuscript was rejected on the basis of her handwriting, which gave her away as a woman, and is annoyed at the suggestion that she needs to put a love story into her ghost story. She starts out a little naïve, but she investigates Allerdale Hall on her own and puts together the mystery of Thomas’s other wives, and does so long before her family friend Alan arrives to tell her he’s found out the same thing. She believes the best of her new family at first, but is not so innocent as to not question their stranger aspects or challenge their sometimes nonsensical rules. She also takes the initiative sexually, aware of what she wants from Thomas and instigating the one time they actually do do the do. In the end, the final showdown is between her and Lucille, and she’s not afraid to strike the killing blow to end it all. Alan is merely a bystander at the climax, too injured from being attacked by Lucille to actually help.
The movie does fall into the typical period piece issue of racial representation—there were only three Black people in it at all, and all in brief appearances as cheerful maids or manservants. It wouldn’t have taken a lot of editing to the storyline to make Edith a person of color—her father was a self-made businessman, after all, and it would make the most sense for them to be nonwhite out of anyone who could be racebent. It would have also added an extra layer of complexity to the interactions between Lucille, Thomas, and Edith, as it’s likely the prejudices of the Sharpes’ privileged upbringing would have had an effect on their decision to prey on Edith.
Finally, it would be remiss of me to end this review without complimenting the visuals of the movie as a whole—the sets were intricate and beautiful, and Guillermo del Toro wasn’t wrong when he said that the house itself is basically a character. Each costume was more gorgeous than the next one, leaving me and my family gushing on the car ride home, and opening a wide range of awesome possibilities for potential cosplay. And the cinematography as a whole was just amazing, from the contrast of the red clay against the white snow, to the vibrant colors of the clothing and sets, to the incredibly effective creepiness of the ghosts. Also, did I mention that it doesn’t rely on jump scares to be scary? Because I fucking hate jump scares—I think they’re a cheap way to frighten an audience—and I was pleased at their general absence.
All in all, Crimson Peak’s plot was a little predictable, but it was a tremendously visually compelling movie and one I’d be happy to watch again. If you’re looking for a hardcore scary movie to watch for Halloween, this might not be frightening enough for you, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend y’all check it out.