Over the last month or so, I read numerous articles containing suggested reading and viewing for those eagerly anticipating Crimson Peak, the new film from Guillermo del Toro. I didn’t really follow their advice, partly because I found a number of their suggested titles distasteful but mostly because I am already well-acquainted with the genre. I would gripe about the omission of any 18th century gothic novel from these lists but I won’t go there right now. Needless to say, I have been looking forward to seeing Crimson Peak for more than a year and long before even an official title was given. However, as I often fear, with high expectations may come great disappointment, but I am much gratified to say that Crimson Peak is anything but disappointing.
Guillermo del Toro has frequently impressed me with his ability to convey genuine character in his films, a talent I attribute to his great passion not only for film but for literature. Even though I have technically enjoyed his films ever since I saw Mimic as a child and Hellboy later on as an adolescent, it wasn’t until I listened to his commentary to The Devil’s Backbone that I became thoroughly convinced of his capabilities. Though a number of his fans have dismissed his Hellboy films as inferior to the emotional depth of Pan’s Labyrinth, I believe both of equal merit, though they differ in aesthetic and dramatic qualities. As one studying psychology, I can more readily recognize the sign of emotional depth than the average film critic, whose abilities of appraisal seem to rest more on the flimsy criteria of conventional technique than intelligent insight …. but I digress. Like his other films, del Toro’s newest compares very favorably with his previous efforts and manages to be both entertaining and emotion effective.
Apart from the more apparent gothic trappings–such as the crumbling mansion, ghosts, Byronic hero, and intrepid heroine–the attitudes of the film, expressed both through its photography and characters, is thoroughly true to the ideas and sensibilities of the Romantic movement. The decaying home of Alderdale Hall, colorfully nicknamed “Crimson peak” for the blood-red clay inundating the soil beneath it and even the walls themselves, is imbued with the same ominously sublime character which Radcliffe gave to the castle of Udolpho. The house becomes far more than a thing, a glorious though decrepit gothic revival rivaling even the greatest architectural excesses of the Gilded Age, and reflects, with terrific effect, the evil deeds committed within its antique walls. Lucille Sharpe muses on the fragility of beauty as she holds a dying buttery in her hands, while her brother pointedly compares of the bitterness of the tea to the barren and desolate landscape surrounding the house, which can bear neither crop not hope. It is this that make the horrors of Crimson peak truly terrifying; without it the film would feel hollow and vapid.
Also true to the roots of the genre, is its finely wrought suspense, filled with terrible secrets and hidden agendas. The film truly surprised me many times and felt real, even despite its almost fanatic setting. Although, given my fondness for the genre, my reaction might be more correctly considered a matter of taste. In the language of the 18th centuries critics, I found it wholly probable, a fittingly appropriate portrayal of human psychology and the supernatural. Despite the forwarding of other critics, I found the film genuinely scary and quite disturbing, though perhaps for reasons many other might bot be easily affected by.
Without giving too much away, I can say that at the heart of Crimson peak is uncountable passion and the tragedy that inevitably befalls those who cannot mediates their passions. I found it distributing for the same reason I found Stephan King’s Misery disturbing. It is hard for me to easily hate someone when my heart is moved to pity them yet knowing that nothing but their own actions have condemned them and that nothing can change it. It is rare for me to cry in response to a film but the climax overwhelmed me with such sadness I could not help but do so.
To end on a more pleasant note, I would also like to commend to the building set and costume designs. Oh, and Tom Hiddleston’s bare behind. As a gay man who grew up with films featuring gratuitous female nudity and little, or no, male nudity, it was a refreshing change to see. I’m sure many would agree, if only to express their fondness for Hiddleston and his physical attributes.