Review Crimson Peak (2015): An ode to the Gothic novel brought to life by Del Toro’s visual poetry

Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak

‘Crimson Peak’ is a gothic horror movie set in the beginning of the 20th century in which the young writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) falls in love with the mysterious English ‘baronet’ Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Edith moves in with Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in their Victorian mansion. But she’s not alone in the house: she is haunted by ghosts from a dark past, something Edith is experiencing from a young age. With ‘Crimson Peak’ director Guillermo del Toro revives the forgotten gothic horror genre.

Romance for those with nerves of steel

The long expected movie of Guillermo del Toro, master of grim fairytales like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth‘, starts as a dreamy costume drama about the forbidden love between Edith and Thomas, dissaproved by Edith’s father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). But soon the atmosphere changes when Edith’s father is gruesomely murdered by banging his head on the sink. The viewer who is expecting a romantic movie, should have a strong stomach. A seemingly innocent scene can turn any moment into a very well-constructed jump scare.

The story winks at horror clichés, like a red ball that isn’t fetched by the dog, but by a decaying corpse (played the former contortionist Doug Jones, known for playing many nonhuman characters). However, Edith is not portrayed as a damsel in distress, but as an intelligent, independent woman with the ambition to become a writer of ghost stories (a great construction of a story in a story). A welcome change in horror movies.

Grim beauty

With his authentic cinematography and art direction Del Toro combines romance and horror in his story and the aesthetics of the movie. Because of the gorgeous costumes which remind me of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula‘, detailed (and real built) sets with elements of gothic architecture, beautiful lighting and framing, every shot looks like a 19th century painting. Del Toro has got an amazing eye for detail. The grim estate of the Sharpe family for example is built upon a mine with red clay which threatens to sink the house and the clay runs down the walls like thick blood. The snow outside absorbs the red clay, giving it’s name Crimson Peak. The estate is more than just a decor: it’s a living thing and character within the story.

The movie tells a gruesome story raising the question which is more terrifiying: ghosts or the human mind? ‘Crimson Peak’ is an ode to the gothic novel brought to life by the visual poetry of director Del Toro and great performances by especially Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston. An absolute must-see movie for those who love costume drama, romance and who are in for some absurd horror.


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