Movie Review | Crimson Peak
Movie summary: In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds - and remembers. (IMDb)
When I watched Crimson Peak for the first time years ago, I didn't really have any preconceptions going in other than knowing that the critical responses had been fairly mixed. I also didn't know too much about the movie at all, other than there were ghosts in it and wondering what kind of movie it would be: I hadn't really picked up any kind of 'horror' vibe from the little I had seen.
That proved to be true as, while there are multiple ghosts in this movie, I would absolutely say that this isn't anything close to a horror movie - at least, not how many people would define one anyway. There are horrible people who carry out horrible acts and there are the ghosts, whose appearances would definitely qualify as horrifying, but this movie isn't really out to scare the audience.
Crimson Peak is far more focused on the twisted tangle of relationships between Edith (Mia Wasikowska); Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston); his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain); and, ultimately, Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). The first three are unquestionably the central trio and it's the two siblings who provide the darker aspects of the movie.
One other thing I will note that might put some off is that this movie doesn't shy away from showing the decidedly bloody and disgusting results of murderous acts. There's one scene where a prominent character gets their skull caved in by being repeatedly bashed against a sink and we get to see the full gory mess that you'd expect from such a violent act.
There isn't a great deal of violence in Crimson Peak though, although there is a constant malevolence that pervades every layer of the movie from very early on and only increases in intensity once the story moves to England. There is one character in particular who would probably qualify as the chief antagonist of the story and they prove so enjoyably despicable that it's highly satisfying to see them get their comeuppance.
Even then, they aren't just a simple villain who carries out evil acts for the sake of it, with a tragic past of their own childhood that ultimately poisoned the rest of their life and those around them. This old trauma doesn't justify their behaviour in any way, but at least provides the audience with some semblance of understanding why anyone would behave as they do.
Mia Wasikowska is the figure on the receiving end of these ill intentions and does a great job of showing us Edith suffering for long stretches of the movie without ever becoming grating. This is mainly due to her character's determination to find out what is happening to her and why she sees the ghosts that apparently no-one else does.
Watching Crimson Peak a second time reinforced for me how great she is in the role and makes me wonder why she hasn't become a bigger name in the time since. The character of Edith could easily have become annoying or could come across as weak, but Wasikowska infuses her with so much fighting spirit that you want her to come through it all okay.
The major love interest for Edith is Sir Thomas and, again, after this second viewing, I'm even more impressed with Hiddleston's performance than before and might actually now be my favourite character he's ever portrayed - yes, even ahead of his brilliant Loki. There are so many layers that get peeled away across the course of the movie that it's astonishing how natural it all seems.
Or, to use the Loki comparison again, Thomas undergoes a fairly similar character evolution to the God of Mischief, but it's completed inside a single film rather than five and yet never feels rushed. He starts off presenting himself as one thing, we soon see there is another side to him and then he discovers that there's another side to him that he was unaware of and Hiddleston nails every step of the journey.
Lucille doesn't undergo quite as drastic a transformation, giving Chastain less to work with, but she's no less enjoyable to watch and this is actually quite the departure for the actress in terms of the type of character she's playing. Lucille is cold, jealous and manipulative from the start and only gets worse from there - and that's without mentioning her relationship with her brother.
I think the fact that Lucille is such a departure for Chastain - from what I've seen of her anyway - actually helped because that prior knowledge of her other roles almost acts as a form of 'meta camouflage' that helps Lucille's evolution across the movie feel stronger than it would've done to me otherwise.
As for story, I know there are some who criticised Crimson Peak for being too predictable and leaning into certain tropes a little too hard to be satisfying, but - while I do agree that you can generally figure out the key moments before they happen - I found that the dramatic irony served only to increase the tension and heighten the anticipation of seeing how things turned out.
Lastly, there's one area that the movie was praised almost unanimously for, and that's just how incredible everything looks, from the costuming to the locations to the fantastic designs for the ghosts - which, as a very slight spoiler, are colour-coded too if you pay attention. There's so much to enjoy visually that even if there are other parts of the movie you don't like, you'll at least be able to appreciate everything you see on-screen.
Crimson Peak isn't the most original movie ever, but its excellence lies in the execution - as long as you accept the movie for what it is and don't judge it as something it was never intended to be. The central trio of Wasikowska, Hiddleston and Chastain are all great and how their relationships to each other change are the highlight of the move, just ahead of how gorgeous everything looks.