Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, CRIMSON PEAK (2015) is a throwback classic Gothic story updated around the edges with a modern sensibility. I liked it.
It’s 1901, and budding horror author Edith and her construction magnate father are visited by the charming Lord Sharpe, who is searching for funding for his digging machine invention, which he hopes will allow his estate’s mines to reopen and restore the family fortune. She falls in love with Sharpe, but he and his sister are not what they seem. Trapped in a crumbling mansion, she slowly learns the truth, a search inspired by the appearance of ghosts.
There’s a lot to like here, with its flaws easily forgivable as they’re largely inherent in the Gothic storytelling license, which you will either dig or you won’t. The acting (notably Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) is great, the period sets and costumes are fantastic, and the ghosts are very well rendered. If you’ve ever had a taste for a classic Gothic story, look no further. CRIMSON PEAK has it all: dire prophecy, ghosts, crumbling mansion, wicked villains, saviors, imprisoned damsel, a dark family mystery, all the conventions are here, though again touched up with a modern sensibility such as giving the women, wicked and good alike, more agency.
On the downside, many Gothic conventions are so familiar as to be cliches, and some of the cliches are ridiculous with drama that pushes into melodrama and the usual good guys making bad decisions to draw out the conflict. On the blonde-haired heroic side, the characterization is unfortunately relatively weak to the raven-haired villain side. The ghosts are quite well done but there isn’t much going on that’s particularly scary. And the ending is fairly predictable. I’m not sure how I would have improved it, as I think it accomplishes what del Toro set out to do, but I think it might be a more compelling film if it either strengthened the protagonist or more cleverly played against convention so as to be surprising and fresh.
So take it for what you will. I enjoyed CRIMSON PEAK, though I had to remind myself to put aside my modern eyes a few times and run with it.