By William Spaulding (Fresno, California)
Del Toro does it again! With Crimson Peak he takes us into our darkest, most velvet fantasies; of filigree tapestries, parquet floors, wrought iron metal work and at last the budding romance of death and ancient family curses. He does this all and still has time to include a Lizzie Borden-esque escapade!
Everything about this film screamed Penny Dreadful and a fantastical love for 19th century fashion. The heroine declaring that she would be a Mary Shelly instead of Jane Austin, as well as, the ruined mansion brings one back to memories of The Castle of Otranto. Although, del Toro seemed uncertain about if he wanted his film to be a ghost story as there were obvious allusions to them, or if he wanted a gothic romance. The ghost, while being terrifying and startling, played a very small role in this film, which left much to be deed. I was expecting a Danse Macabre instead of a black laced Romeo and Juliet with the odd incest love story directing the drama of the film.
I must applaud the actors and actresses, however. Mia Wasikowska dominated as the dreamy, independent, Victorian writer who found herself on the boarder of women’s suffrage. Her father acting as the early American capitalist, who holds a disdain for British entitlement (played by Jim Beaver) and favors hard work over privilege. Because of her father’s success, the heroine lives a sheltered life and her beautiful writing lacks a depth that only Thomas Sharpe could provide (played by Tom Hiddleston). Whisked away to the British moorlands to live in a decaying mansion crowded by the spirits of the tragically killed, the heroine meets the antagonist, Lady Lucille Sharpe (played by Jessica Chastain). Things go awry, as is expected in a gothic romance, and Lady Lucille Sharpe turns out to be quite the viper. Chastain depicts the jealous madness that can only come from the tabooed love between brother and sister, swinging her cleaver with a sanguine grace despite her lack of accuracy.
Classic del Toro trademarks appear as well. The moths and their association with spirits play a role within the films symbolism. One can also expect to see the protruding skeletal jaws and teeth of the dead as are common in del Toro’s films, like the character Death in Hellboy 2. Gnarled fingers pull dis-carnet beings down narrow corridors while their wispy ectoplasm makes the phantasms all the more macabre.
Another symbol is the red clay that makes up the Sharpe enterprise. The damned house sinks slowly into the mine, just as the Sharpe name is also being swallowed into its Crimson eternity. The clay takes over the home and begins to ooze through the walls giving the house an atmosphere that’s reminiscent of The Shinning.
Fans of del Toro will be as contented as I was by Crimson Peak, and will find themselves picking up Wuthering Heights to live a little longer in the black light of Victorian, England. If not, then maybe Mary Shelly would better suit the Goth palette.
Thomas Sharpe: You’re so different.
Edith Cushing: From who?
Thomas Sharpe: Everyone.