A writer who can see ghosts marries a mysterious English aristocrat after the tragic death of her only living relative, and moves into his beautiful, dilapidated mansion. A story of love, tragedy, and ghosts trapped inside red clay unravels even as the house falls apart.
Guillermo del Toro has delivered another wonderfully creepy and exceptionally beautiful film in Crimson Peak. I had the pleasure of seeing in Imax, and would recommend that others do the same. It’s a few dollars more, but well worth the money to see it in the best possible quality. Crimson Peak is one of the most beautiful films that I have seen this year. The costumes, scenery, and sound design are absolutely wonderful. I especially appreciated the varied ways that the red clay appeared throughout the story. The story establishes its own personal style quickly, and with great confidence.
However, this should be said before you go in: don’t expect your standard horror movie, because that’s not what Crimson Peak is. At its heart, Crimson Peak is a reflection of the story it’s protagonist, Edith, is writing: a gothic romance that happens to have ghosts in it, both as metaphors for the past and something a tad more immediate. And in the world of gothic romance, logic and streamlined plot are sacrificed in order to maintain continuity in metaphor and themes. For instance, it makes sense for Edith to break her leg for the sake of continuing the metaphor at play, even when it doesn’t make logical sense with the events that follow. In essence, Crimson Peak is going back to a form of storytelling that involves elements of horror, but doesn’t necessarily operate on the expected, modern-day rules that audiences have come to expect. If you’re looking for a slasher or something along the lines of Poltergeist, you will be disappointed.
This is also quite different from the director’s other projects that have blended surrealism and fantasy alongside more “realistic” forms of storytelling. In Pan’s Labyrinth, for instance, the divide between the fantastical and the more realistic is clearly drawn. In Crimson Peak, the separating line becomes malleable – a suggestion rather than a hard rule. I’d go a step further and argue that it is also meant to reflect the novel that Edith is writing in subject matter, but also in style. Though clearly talented, Edith is also somewhat inexperienced as a storyteller – her writing is not as tight as it could be. I would argue that the fluidity of these elements in Crimson Peak are meant to reflect Edith’s own inexperience as a writer. This doesn’t make her story or any of her experiences any less authentic, but simply blends them together.
In essence, Crimson Peak feels more like a series of memories than a narrative composed years after the fact, when the emotions have settled. Everything is raw and immediate, forced into the now rather than situating moments in their proper context. In some ways, it reminds me of the Hunger Games novels, in that the narrative feels choppy in places, and the details that the protagonist fixates on don’t always make sense to the audience, who has the opportunity to step back and look at things objectively. Moments of relative banality are broken with sudden, horrific instance of violence with no warning or time to recover. I also find it interesting that the horrific nature of the ghosts never changed over the film, but that Edith’s reactions to them did. The ghosts remain terrifying and grotesque throughout the entire film – they never become entirely benevolent – but rather than urging them to change, Edith simply accepts them. It is her growth that drives the story, not the ghosts. These are stories about trauma, growth, and – of course – the ghosts of the past that refuse to die. In that sense, the style that Del Toro chose to tell this story makes perfect sense.
It does, however, require something of an open mind to accept. This is not your ordinary ghost story.