By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Crimson Peak is hardly melancholy as most Gothic pieces of literature flow. The tale here moves in Jane Eyre fashion, focussing on a romance, with bits of The Turn of the Screw and Fall of the House of Usher mixed in. When Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is introduced as a confident young woman wanting to become a writer in the same vein as Mary Shelley, just what’s odd is her sudden conversion naivety as she’s swept away by the loving charm of Thomas Sharpe (charmingly played by Tom Hiddleston), a gentleman inventor from England. He’s arrived in Old Boston, circa 1890, to convince a board of rich businessman to invest in his operation.
There’s this rich red clay on his land that can be a boon to the construction industry. These bricks can be tough as nails when properly mixed, but it’s also symbolic to a detail that ties this film together. The deep crimson quality suggests something else. Writer and director Guillermo del Toro makes sure all the symbolic interpretations of this colour are examined. From warning, love, courage and hate, just what exactly this brick like tone represents depends on the individual and culture. For Edith, if only she understood the signs. She should have. As a writer, she has to know that the world can be explained with allegory and metaphors. There’s the potential for anything she sees or experiences to contain a deeper meaning. She’s smart for one-act and is dumb in the remainder. Perhaps that’s because of the poison that’s working through her system to numb her senses. A lot of thought is required to process the story that del Toro has penned with Matthew Robbins. Not every detail is properly explained for some people to understand. Some of them might be mistaken for plot holes.
While the emphasis is to focus on the visual narrative, part of many character’s motivations is not as easily noticeable. There’s a bitterness in Lucille (Jessica Chastain) that needs observation and interpretation on. When Carter (Jim Beaver), Edith’s father, is very concerned over the courtship that’s happening between Thomas and his daughter, he hires a detective (wonderfully played by Burn Gorman in a very underrated role) to find the truth. What’s discovered can set the Sharpe’s plans awry; they desperately want the money.
As for why, only the spirits of Allerdale Hall know and they don’t have the ability to speak. Only the spirit of Edith’s mother spoke, and she warned her young daughter to beware of Crimson Peak, the nickname of where this estate is located. The message is repeated again, but is lost to Edith’s fading memory. Poison can do strange things. That has to be the reason she did not decide to flee sooner than later.
If only this movie treaded on the idea that children can communicate with ghosts easier (than simply be frightened as this movie had shown), then just maybe the opening act could have lasted longer. It’s curious that although she died not too long ago, the disease that killed her must have overwhelmed her soul. However, when all the spectres are ghoulish decayed corpses instead of appearing like a photograph from a piece of film celluloid (yes, I’ve possibly been witness to a few ghosts myself), the representations are not accurate to today’s time. They are, instead, depictions from literature published from this era. They are bone-like, wispy and ethereal. They linger around areas considered ‘home.’ Just like in The Others, they are also confined to a certain area and can never leave. As Edith explained, “It’s a story with a ghost in it.”
Just like in Hamlet, the spirit’s role is to warn the living of impending events or to speak of a secret. In this film’s case, several ghosts are attempting to make contact with Edith, and fail because she’s not aware of what they want. Yeah, they can effectively creep everyone in the theatre out because of their looks (When they’re freshly created, they look as human as you or I. After decades of neglect with no living contact, its possible their looks are going to decay). They can threaten, but no physical harm can happen unless the living causes it themselves.
Fortunately, Edith conquers her fear and attempts to communicate with the spirits. When this film clocks in at close to two hours even, to see her reach that point does feel stretched out. Like the clawing hands that tried to reach out to her, they can never reach unless she reciprocates. Even then, there’s no terror to feel when these ghosts are observed. They look pitiable, and that’s a beautiful touch by del Toro to show that spirits are not as terrifying as normal media paints them to be. These ghosts of Crimson Peak are colourful and Scooby-Doo be damned, at least they are not the Technicolor phantoms. Why can’t all films be about Rosebud?
3½ Stars out of 5