October is always a good time to see movies that will have you on the edge of your seat—or balled up in it—and Crimson Peak does not disappoint. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose other works include Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, the gothic romance-horror stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, Jessica Chastain as Lucile Sharpe and Tom Hiddleston as Thomas Sharpe.
Crimson Peak is set at the beginning of the twentieth century. It begins at its end, with most of the story a flashback. Edith Cushing is the daughter of a wealthy American businessman, who aspires to be an author of ghost stories. She is held back by the publisher’s expectation of romance from a woman.
She meets Thomas Sharpe when he travels to New York from England to seek investors for his clay-mining machine, which he hopes will revitalize his family’s mine. Edith and Thomas become involved in a romantic relationship, to her father’s displeasure, but after Mr. Cushing’s sudden death, Edith is left alone with no family and no one to comfort her but her beloved. Edith and Thomas are quickly married and depart for the family manor in England, where Thomas’ sister, Lucille, and the dark Sharpe family secrets await.
Wasikowska plays well the role of a passionate, free-willed young woman of delicate and ethereal beauty, which comes to little surprise, as she is known for roles in films such as Jane Eyre and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Hiddleston, who has earned himself an adoring following as Loki in Marvel’s various Avengers films, seems almost a natural choice for a charming and mysterious nobleman, and his adoration makes Thomas’ role seem a little ironic.
The plot, while entertaining, was a little too predictable. Fortunately, the suspense and terror the mysteries of the Sharpe family evoke helped to impede the complete deduction of all the twists too early. It is refreshing to see ghosts used as something other than an antagonistic force; in fact, in Crimson Peak, they serve more as a secondary plot device as they guide Edith closer to the heart of the mystery, yet still manage to be terrifying. Unlike most traditional ghosts, these ghosts often appeared solid and were always mangled beyond being recognizable as human, probably representative of their horrible deaths.
My biggest complaint is the film’s use of iris-out transitions between scenes. Iris-outs do tend to make films seem older than they are, but they can also disrupt the viewer’s sense of immersion. The iris’s focal point is often on a key object or person at the end of a scene, trying to lead the viewer to draw certain conclusions. In this case, those conclusions were all the right ones, but the predictability of the plot does not require such handholding, which leaves the transition as unnecessarily distracting.
Despite its flaws, Crimson Peak is worth the theater admission and even a second viewing, once it is available on Blu-ray and streaming services. The acting is solid, the special effects and costuming are on point and Tom Hiddleston fans are sure to find a treat.