Crimson Peak reminds one of Edgar Allan Poe scribblings, as the camera swoops around a giant, Gothic styled house, accentuating the beautiful arches and painstaking designed windows. The look of this house is appropriately surreal, as an odd colour palette is used to give the film an almost fairy-tale quality. It flirts with the horror genre but subverts expectations, creating a movie that isn’t perfect, but if anything it is unique. It isn’t a scary film but it is filled with atmosphere and unanswered questions.
The tale takes place first in America in the late 19th century. A family tragedy occurs near the beginning of the film, starting the horror for Edith (Mia Wasikowska) while also driving her into the comforting arms of Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who the young author falls in love with and marries. Make no mistake, while the horror tag may have been stamped on this film, it is more of a Gothic romance story. Edith travels to rural England with Sir Thomas and his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), to live in the giant mansion.
Guillermo set out to make one of those rare Gothic-Romance stories, something that hasn’t been done well in a long time. There are some frightening moments in the film of course, but there aren’t a ton of “jump at you” scares, which is a breath of fresh air from all of the recent horror movies as of late. Instead, this is a slow burn of terror that follows a woman who falls in love with someone who is not who he appears to be. Guillermo and Matthew Robbins’s script allows enough time to set up each character with good amount of back-story, so that we may connect with them.
I’ll be honest, 99 percent of the time I can’t stand romance in films. It so often feels forced or tacked on at the last second, having nothing to do with the plot. Either that or it is simply too sentimental for my tastes. This film however is unique in its genre-blending, as the romantic scenes between Hiddleston and Wasikowska work within the context of the story. Not only do they share great chemistry but the love these two characters share is integral to the plot. It is also tastefully done; each time they embraced it felt right within the world the film creates; appropriately Gothic in nature as the romanticism within the horror framework is further explored. This may be typical fare for a traditional Gothic tale, but for the big screen I can’t think of anything that comes close. All I can think of is Stonehearst Asylum, and that is only because it too was based in a Gothic setting, also in rural England. But the similarities stop there. This film stands firmly on its own two feet, though I am sure there are examples of similar films that successfully blend romanticism with horror.
Unfortunately the final act is a little underwhelming given the build-up; the reason being that the haunted house card is played subtly. Which is admirable for its attempt at something different, however the tale loses its heft because of this. It is also a tad predictable in this final act. But the rest of the film is so gorgeous to look at, whether it is the aforementioned Gothic styled mansion, the fluent camera-work or the extreme attention to detail regarding the period wardrobe… I can forgive the final act for feeling a little flat. Additionally, isn’t the sort of horror film that has a pay off at the end. Rather, this story features a main character who is slowly going through a world of horrors as the film moves on, creating a character-study that is an interesting mix of desperation, loneliness, depression, madness and love. Crimson Peak isn’t perfect but it sure is an intriguing film.
Crimson Peak gets a 7.4/10.