Crimson Peak is a highly-stylized love-letter to Romantic Horror that favours immersive visuals over cheap scares.
It may be hard for modern audiences to suspend their belief and really take in the full beauty of Crimson Peak. Especially if they go in hoping to be scared. So, I’ll say straight out, you likely wont. But, if you accept it as an homage to the melodramas of the Romantic period, you will be entreated to a film that’s rife with gorgeous cinematography and visual metaphor.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), is a young writer, who marries into the Sharpe family, and moves into their haunted home on Crimson Peak. Her bright and loving attitude, not to mention her effervescent yellow dress, contrasts heavily with the old dark house she finds herself in. Her sister-in-law, Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), plays the polar opposite; She’s introverted and prone to rage. Her vengeful character difference is marked visually by her dark blue dress. And considering her violent past, it’s no coincidence that she is the gatekeeper to the truth behind all the ghosts.
The ghosts within the film aren’t particularly scary, and I doubt they’re intended to be. There’s no suspense to their arrival. In fact, the first ghost appears in the first minute. They may provide spooky ambience, drifting through the room like a drop of a bright blood might in glass of water, but the ghost’s primary purpose is as a “metaphor for the past”—in the Edith’s own words. The first ghost we come to know by name is Enola, who lost not only her life, but her child. Enola serves to warn Edith that though she may seem to be part of the family, she is ultimately, Alone.
You may see a colourful pattern starting to emerge. And while it’s possible that Toro simply wanted to make a colourful horror film, it’s more than likely that each primary colour represents one of the central themes within the film: Yellow for Love, Blue for Revenge, and Red for Loss. Edith goes on to explain why it’s these three, “There are things that tie a ghost to a place… Some tethered by a patch of land or a time and date. But there are others that hold to an emotion, a drive: Loss, Revenge or Love…”
But how does the Baronet enter into all of this? Both him and the house are utterly black and tragically inseparable. Like Poe’s Usher, Allerdale Hall is a metaphor for the haunted mind of Thomas Sharpe. In the attic you’ll find a workshop full of his fondest memories. In the halls, you’ll find ghosts of Loss, Revenge and Love, haunting his waking conscious. And, in the lowest cavern, you’ll find his subconscious, bubbling up through everything that he does, the same red as the ghosts.
He tries to make good of the bad with all his unique mining contraptions. Literally digging up the bloody past, over and over, in the hopes that one day he’ll make use of the loss. But, the house is rotted beyond repair; poisoned by the cadmium soil. And he is left with the two choices: Abandon it, or let his past slowly but surely kill him and those that he loves.
I wont spoil his decision, but if you know Romantic Horror, like Frankenstien, you’ll know that it tends to tell the tragic tale of a monster that wants nothing more than to be loved, unfortunately, it kills everything it touches. I recommend you see Crimson Peak, immerse yourself in the visuals, and suspend your belief to the melodrama.