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halloween film review: crimson peak

In honour of Halloween 2015, Lip’s Arts editor and film critic Bridget Conway takes a look at Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering: the delightfully gothic, super creepy, and surprisingly deep Crimson Peak. Happy Halloween, Lipsters!

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 12.05.50 pm

Crimsom Peak is the brainchild of acclaimed writer and director Guillermo Del Toro.  In true Del Toro style, the film is grim yet stunningly beautiful, and tells a cautionary tale about falling in love too fast and too far.

We follow the young aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) who meets and falls in love with a mysterious English baronet, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) when he comes to get investment money from Edith’s father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Thomas’s sister, Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), has accompanied him to New York, and it is clear as day to those around Edith—and to the audience—that the Sharpes are not to be trusted. Yet, in a turn of unfortunate events, Edith finds herself alone and needing comfort, and so turns to Thomas.

Edith marries Thomas and follows him to his family home, Allerdale Hall, located in middle-of-nowhere England, where Thomas is pursuing his dream to somehow farm the red clay that seeps from the ground beneath the estate. The house is isolated and incredibly eerie, and the redness that bleeds from the walls and underneath the floorboards provides an excellently scary backdrop for the story that unfolds.

As someone who isn’t a huge fan of horror, I was delighted that there was much more than ghost stories and frightful scenes in Crimson Peak (although don’t get me wrong, there was a fair share of these moments). The film portrays itself first and foremost as one that seeks to scare you, but it goes much deeper than your typical shock value, using its Gothic-novel trappings to explore questions of gender and the politics of love and marriage.

Del Toro’s film has a female lead for a very important reason, one that is also relevant to analysis of his 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. With a woman as the centrepiece of the story, what happens around her has a powerful and almost political message. This is noticeable in Crimson Peak in that Edith herself is struggling to gain recognition for being a female writer and feels she must type her manuscript instead of hand-write it, so that publishers don’t know that she is a woman. When given feedback on her manuscript, she’s told it needs a love story to balance out the ghost story. Her inability to gain momentum in any other profession besides being a housewife means that she has little option when she finds herself alone in the world. Marriage and falling in love with a handsome man such as Thomas seems to be her only option, and she follows this path blindly.

However, Edith soon learns that following someone else’s lead can have dire consequences; not only because one can become isolated, but also because dreams can easily fade away amongst the daily grind of doing what one is told to do over and over. As seen in Pan’s Labyrinth where Pan’s mother marries the despicable army general because she was lonely; Edith, too, marries a man of stature and soon discovers that the one she loves has many dark secrets.

Crimson Peak is an incredibly layered and complex film, and to note its political statements regarding the domestic sphere only scratches at its surface. The brother and sister duo of Lucille and Thomas have their own set of faults, which hint at aristocratic hypocrisy, forbidden lust, abuse of the body and of the mind, and a failure to see outside their own world. It is a  testament to Del Toro and to the team behind Crimson Peak that the film can both shock you and make you think about the structures behind marriage and the cultural expectations that accompany it, but for the average moviegoer, this film delivers on creepiness and satisfaction when the heroine triumphs in the face of evil.

 

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