Ghosts, family secrets, madness, an inquisitive heroine, a disintegrating country seat complete with imposing architecture, fading aristocracy, monstrous machines, glorious costumes, bad weather and HUNDREDS of giant moths – there probably hasn’t been a more self-consciously Gothic film in years. As Mark Kermode points out in his review, Crimson Peak is steeped in the tradition of terror, and Del Toro subverts the Gothic genre even as he luxuriates in its excess.
The plot adheres fairly closely to the standard Gothic formula: a young woman falls for a charming, mysterious Baronet, regardless of her father’s disapproval and an obscure, prophetic warning from beyond the grave ('Beware of Crimson Peak!'). The American heroine is whisked away to a remote corner of the Lake District to live in her new husband’s crumbling mansion. Enter creepy sister-in-law, who keeps insisting on making endless pots of questionable-tasting tea, because that’s just what British people do when things feel awkward. Several horrifying apparitions later, Edith decides to investigate the forbidden parts of the house and, predictably, she uncovers a few skeletons in the family closet.
|Lady Lucille Sharpe: part Mrs. Dancers, part Bertha Mason. Proud owner of the ultimate 'resting bitch face'|
Speaking of eyes, there is a recurring motif of seeing and not seeing in Crimson Peak: things that lurk just out of sight, waiting to appear ‘when the time is right’. Early photography is introduced at various moments in the narrative to remind us that we are never seeing the full picture. A still image of the past does not tell the full story, but a gramophone might...
Like the blood-red earth that seeps through the floorboards of the Sharpe household (themes of nature reclaiming space and the dissolution of aristocracy) Crimson Peak leaves behind a vivid stain that will haunt your thoughts long after the credits roll. This film sees Del Toro making a triumphant return to what he does best and the handful critics who complained about the lack of ‘scare factor’ have clearly missed the point. As Edith suggests at the very beginning: it is not a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it. Crimson Peak is not a straightforward horror movie, but rather a collage of familiar Gothic motifs with added depth and modernity. A decade after his critically-acclaimed fairy-tale Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro presents another masterclass in Gothic cinema that is enchanting and disturbing in equal measure. And if this doesn’t convince you to see Crimson Peak immediately, then this picture certainly will: