Brace yourselves, this is going to be a long post. It has been a month since I saw Crimson Peak. And you know what, I liked it. Ever since it was announced that Guillermo del Toro was making a new movie, set in the early 20th century with gothic tones, I have been waiting for it with excitement. A true gothic tale around autumn holidays sounded great. So, when I went to see it, there was no doubt that I got everything I wanted from it. However, not everyone felt that way.
For sure, I am a fan of YouTube reviewers. Those are film enthusiasts who share their opinion with the world about a particular movie and give you a brief overview of what to expect once you enter the movie theatre. And those reviewers that I watch are usually good. But, every once in a while a movie comes along that kind of shows their lack of knowledge for some genres and aspects of film. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that those reviewers are absolutely bad at what they do, but sometimes it becomes apparent that they are not professionally acquainted with a certain subject matter.
Such was the case with Crimson Peak. It was a breath of fresh air, and that is why it is a pity that people were misguided and misinformed about it. That is in a way the reason why I am writing this. Crimson Peak is a modern homage to the gothic genre, I think that both the movie and gothic itself deserve a lot of respect and praise.
First of all, a lot of misunderstanding came from the fact that Crimson Peak was a horror movie. Te answer to that is negative, and if I may say, an obvious negative. It is a gothic film, a gothic romance to be precise. And while gothic contains horror in itself, it does not fully rely on it, nor it is limited to it. Gothic exceeds horror. Moreover, gothic definitely does not fit into the perception of horror movies today, even though all of them borrow from it.
The genre of horror movies today is poor. It has come down to watching people die on screen in ways the audience has not seen them die before. It has become a string of scenes where various objects and people suddenly appear in front of you on the screen. Of course you are going to jump in your seat after that. But, that is just being startled. Crimson Peak was a return to the basics. While other movies take elements from gothic but fail to deliver, Crimson Peak displays all of its conventions and praises them. That is why I was disappointed that some people did not find it interesting because they were not frightened by it. The aim of this movie was not to frighten you in the first place. It was not designed to make you sleep with your lights on. Gothic is unsettling on levels beyond fear. You can also hear those claiming that Crimson Peak offers nothing new and that you have seen it all basically in every other horror movie. But, this all seems familiar because Crimson Peak is the celebration of the gothic form, it is the return to the original. And again, horror movies today owe everything to gothic, not the other way around.
The gothic in Crimson Peak is apparent, from the mysterious aristocrats, old ruined house which replaces the castle from earlier versions of gothic, to the finale where the mystery is ultimately resolved. There are also issues of sexuality, since gothic also dealt with suppression of it and the forbidden eroticism in those social circumstances. There are two romantic relationships in the movie, the one that Thomas Sharpe has with his new wife Edith, and the one he has with Lucille Sharpe, his sister. The relationship between Edith and Thomas is liberating, while his incestuous relationship with Lucille is suffocating and feels like the shackles of the past. In terms of the characters, Crimson Peak offers both conventions and slight twists to their arcs.
There are people who claim that Edith’s character does not have a protagonist arc, and I would disagree with that. She is a protagonist of a gothic romance story in every sense of the word, with a bit more details that make her somewhat modern. She is both a character and a vessel to tell the story. As a character, Edith moves from the place of the comfort zone of her home and arrives at an unfamiliar, even disgusting place that is the Sharpe’s house, set in the bleak British countryside. She is a woman of her present, with opportunities in front of her, and as such she clashes with the past that burdens the siblings. While at the beginning she might seem like a passive object for Thomas to seduce and use, towards the end she become the active agent in firstly unraveling the mystery and then in saving herself and her friend Alan from Thomas and Lucille.
As a vessel, Edith, like many of other gothic protagonists, is used to guide the viewers through the story and along with them to reveal the truth about the Sharpe siblings. In that respect, we see the aspect of gothic that is concerned with the mystery, with an unseen terror lurking in the dark. It is not the characters that we are predominately interested in, it is the finding out the truth that haunts them and the place where they are staying in.
As far as the siblings are concerned, their crimes and incestuous relationship are what drives the story, they are the question and Edith works as an answer. They are indeed gothic villains, aristocrats who have declined in every sense, partners in crime who feed on young and innocent women like Edith. But, even though they start from the same point, they do not end at the same place. Thomas eventually tried to break free from the vicious cycle in which he was trapped along with Lucille, but his sister did not want their way of life and their relationship to change. So, Thomas and Lucille begin as monsters, seductive, violent, and dangerous, but gradually the sister becomes a doppelganger of the brother. The shift that happened in Thomas was the beginning of the tragedy of his character, because he as the gothic villain could not change his status so easily. His crimes were too heavy, but at least he achieved redemption in the end.
Finally, the house and the ghosts are the last important elements of this gothic imagery portrayed in Crimson Peak. The house is almost a character itself. It is unfriendly to outsiders and hides many secrets of the Sharpe family. The ghosts that haunt the house come as an addition that helps Edith discover the truth about her husband and his sister. Contrary to many modern horror movies, ghosts Crimson Peak are not the enemy, they are not the force that the protagonist fights against. In true gothic fashion, they are the symbols of the past that guide Edith through the mystery she has to unravel. The ghosts are not the antagonists, they are there to move the story.
If you like gothic and its conventions, then Crimson Peak definitely deserves your attention. It is refreshing for the contemporary cinematic horror scene, because it is not the horror movie that we are used to getting nowadays. Absurdly, gothic has become an almost forgotten genre, even though it gave so much to fiction and cinema that we have today. It is artists like Guillermo del Toro that keep it alive with great imagination and creativity. We need more films like this, if nothing else to test the knowledge of the audience. Besides, Crimson Peak looks wonderful and you can tell how much passion and effort was put in the set and creature design. Guillermo del Toro is not style over substance. His style is the substance and he gives so much with it. And it is fine if you did not find the movie as enjoyable as I did. Still, when you dislike something, you should have an understanding of the matter. You need to have a good reason for not liking it. This is one post that I just had to get out of my system.