Crimson Peak: Evocative Characters, Harrowing Scenes

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Genre: Horror/mystery

Synopsis: Edith is content focusing on her efforts to publish her stories and living with her father, when Thomas Sharpe from England enters her life, intent on winning her over. This culminates in him and his sister Lucille bringing her to their home, Crimson Peak, a place Edith realizes too late that she’s been warned against all her life–by ghosts, which she has the ability to see. And there are ghosts in Crimson Peak.

Edith comes to realize that she’s been caught in the web of something terrible, and it’s meant to kill her…

Verdict: Quite good. Exceptional for a horror movie.

Despite not being a horror person, I really liked this. I didn’t fall in love with it, but I did enjoy the experience and watching the characters go about their convoluted motivations. The atmosphere is engrossing. Not just the setting, but also the staging and the dramatic pauses that fuel anticipation. I personally engaged with the narrative more as if it were a mystery, which it kinda was. We know who the villains are the entire time, but we don’t know what exactly they’ve done, or why.

The story has some great character work that relies heavily on the acting ability of the cast, which is thankfully up to the task. Lucille especially gets some skillfully executed, haunting scenes. For all that I didn’t quite get or like her character, she has some of the most powerful moments in the movie. Thomas also gets a few standout moments that require Tom Hiddleston to nail a line or an expression, and he does it. Edith is more of a gradually evolving personality than someone who’s secrets are glimpsed from behind a mask, which is less dramatic, but also requires a range of work–she has to be alternately, cheerful, terrified, brave, or brave while being terrified.

Here be spoilers.

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This story requires Edith to fall in love with Thomas before the main part of the story starts, and relatively independently from the other plot elements. It was well done for what it was–it isn’t my preference to have characters forming relationships (either platonic or romantic) as an actual plot point, rather than as a consequence of plot. That can be risky, as throwing in scenes just to get characters interacting, without having a larger connection to the plot, could come off as contrived. But this story manages to evade most of the pitfalls of that particular danger zone by being concise and weaving in hints of what’s to come plot-wise. So while I didn’t love this aspect of it, I didn’t mind it, either–and I usually do.

The juxtaposition between the romantic progression and the underlying knowledge that this is steadily leading Edith into a trap also creates a nice tension. We always know that things cannot possibly end well for Edith and Thomas. Even when we find out he isn’t directly responsible for the death of Edith’s father, there was still no way it was going to end well for them–and interestingly, Thomas reveals himself to be the most naive of the characters in believing that it was possible.

Because even though Lucille was the force of personality driving the pair of them, Thomas was still an accessory to all of these things. He was complicit. It was the funding of his project that caused them to seek out wealthy heiresses for him to marry and Lucille to murder. And he was the one who chose Edith for this, a decision which is still somewhat inexplicable.

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Lucille herself protested the choice of Edith, on moral grounds. Once the decision was made, she followed through, but she objected to targeting someone whom she saw as practically a child. Thomas didn’t, not until he came to genuinely care about Edith on a personal level. In a way, he comes off as the most child-like of the three. His morals are ambiguous, and Edith only begins to matter as a person after she comes to mean something to him. And he was so very naive in proposing that all of them could leave the house for a new life–he couldn’t see the ways in which this would never work for either of the women involved. Lucille could see the only person she’s ever had in the world slipping away from her, while Edith has been used and abused by the both of them, and isn’t the type of person to stand for it.

It culminates fairly perfectly in that last scene between Edith, Lucille, and Thomas, which in retrospect feels like the only way it could have gone for the three of them.

The atmosphere and subtle glimpses of character motivation beneath a facade are what really stand out as amazingly done in this movie. The things that didn’t quite work for me tend to be more personal quibbles than things which are actually flaws with the work.

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My main issue with the story was that the ultimate reveal of the mystery and villain motivations felt anticlimactic. With the build up, I had been expecting at least some more external element. This just leaves me with questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered. Why did the Sharpes have to stay in that house, if nothing was forcing them to? Why marry and murder so many women for their fortunes to build a machine that ultimately wasn’t for anything important? I’d imagined that something in the house was making them stay there, and that the machine was a way to save them or free them–but that amounted to nothing.

However, even that in itself illustrates how, even after the end of the movie, we still don’t really know the Sharpes. We’ve seen who they’ve pretended to be. We’ve seen hints of who they really are underneath those masks, and gotten the basic facts of their past. But we don’t get to see them completely or to understand them. They still remain a mystery, and we still need to fill in the gaps between what they’ve done and what they want. And I do like that aspect of the story, that the Sharpes are complicated enough that we still have to infer things between the lines. That we still have questions about them. I just might have preferred that different questions had remained unanswered.

Additionally, putting in the comparison with Edith’s ghost story–the one she’s writing–is kind of cool. Like the story in the story, the movie itself isn’t so much a ghost movie as a movie with ghosts in it. The overall idea works. There’s just some conflict between the expectations the movie sets up and the execution in terms of how those expectations are overturned. I also like the concept of the ghosts ultimately being a helpful force, despite their scaring the hell out of the protagonist and the audience. It’s definitely a different spin on what we go in expecting.

Overall, the performances of the characters were evocative and powerful–but they just didn’t quite resonate with me. So that’s a personal thing, that didn’t stop the movie from being engaging but kept it from the ranks of my favorites. Still very good.


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