The following contains spoilers for Crimson Peak. You have been warned.
Rachel: So, at least within the film community, Crimson Peak was definitely near or at the top of the list for most anticipated films of 2015. With that build up in mind, and what you know (or don’t know) about Guillermo Del Toro and the genre, what were your initial reactions coming out of the film?
Tyler: Having just come out of it a couple hours ago, I felt very much like I did out of Del Toro’s post-Pan’s Labyrinth work. I liked the movie and his vision was clearly all over this one. I guessed that this wouldn’t be a horror film in the traditional sense but more about the gothic atmosphere.
Alyssa: I think the aspect I liked the most was the gothic atmosphere and that was what originally drew me to the movie. I was a little disappointed by how the ghosts were utilized and I wished there was more of a story there. But the setting was, of course, beautiful and there are so few movies that fall into the gothic genre so that was refreshing.
Tyler: I agree with you about the setting, not just the location but also the time. I was conscientious about time and technology creating very different situations, customs and responses to those scenarios throughout the picture, which I enjoyed quite a bit. When Edith (Mia Wasikowska) first arrives at the mansion and looks up at a hole in the ceiling, I thought about how if that were 50 years ahead of the setting, she would have walked away right then and there.
Rachel: Very true, haha. Before I dive into what I didn’t like, I just want to agree on both of your previous points in that I was excited for the movie originally because we rarely get to see traditional gothic tales on film and this particular one was true to Del Toro’s fantastical and visually compelling style. Now for complaints. I was also perturbed by the use of ghosts, mainly because I liked the ghosts so much and felt genuinely spooked by them. Once the scary gags turned toward the syrupy blood skeletons, though, I was a bit turned off. Also, vibing off what you said Tyler, about the time and place playing a significant role, I was often upset by the story when it seemed like something could be fixed so easily (such as their entire reason for luring women to their home), but I suppose the time period may have called for such desperation.
Alyssa: The ghosts looked really great and I was initially excited to see a compelling ghost story in this gothic, Bronte sisters-type setting but it seemed that the ghosts had no real point of being there because there were no rules for this world that Del Toro created. The ghosts provided a few good scares and they looked beautiful and disturbing but couldn’t the movie have been basically the same without them?
Tyler: Having Edith already believe in ghosts since she was a little girl because she was haunted by/received messages from her mother was an interesting choice and it definitely took away the part of a traditional ghost story where part of the film is the main character(s) coming to terms with the fact that ghosts exist. I was also very aware that the ghosts weren’t going to be the focal point of the plot when Edith says about her own story “the ghosts are only metaphors in the story.” To answer your question more directly, I do think the film could have had fewer moments with the ghosts. The warning by Edith’s mother could have almost been done entirely by voice-over or dream sequence.
Rachel: It is true that Edith’s mother coming to her as a ghost in the beginning doesn’t make perfect sense, and is kind of just a way to introduce ghosts into the story early on, but I kind of enjoyed it nonetheless. What I thought was interesting, going back to Tyler’s point, was when she, in a sense, told the audience directly through her story that the ghosts were metaphorical. She also seems to be giving away other future plot points with this method, which I thought was a clever use of gothic foreshadowing. At one point she also says “I want to die a widow,” which had me waiting for her to die after her husband Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) does so. I guess the fact that her husband does die means that she will eventually one day die a widow, but I felt a bit cheated on that one.
Tyler: Plus we don’t know what happens between her and Dr. Alan Michael though the film infers that remarrying at that time is frowned upon. I’m curious as to what you both thought of the acting, namely Hiddleston’s performance as Thomas. I excused not believing that he loved Edith in those early scenes because I assumed it was a ruse but when it turns out he really does love her, I didn’t quite buy it. Again with the setting, I understand that marriage in the upper-class was often about things other than love.
Alyssa: I think finding out that Thomas really did love Edith was the biggest reveal in the movie because there isn’t much evidence leading up to it. And it is a strange thing to tell his mentally disturbed sister (Jessica Chastain) who is in love with him and also has access to a knife. I did enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s performance, he’s one of those actors you can always count on though, I think some of his dialogue is a little stilted.
Rachel: I did think a bit about the actors after I left this film, mainly because none of their performances left much of an impression on me. I think they all did fine jobs, and I would say that I am a fan of each of the main cast (Wasikowska, Hiddleston, Chastain), but this will not be on my list of their most memorable performances. It was interesting to see Chastain in a role where she plays anything but some version of America’s Sweetheart, but her performance nearly fell flat for me. That being said, I think they all performed well, just not to the caliber I would usually expect.
Tyler: I have seen a lot of debate about Chastain’s performance where some love it and others hate it. I’m glad I fall on the former. One other thing I noticed that I really enjoyed were the scene wipes with a circle closing in on one part of the image. It reminded me a lot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in that Francis Ford Coppola made a point to only use film and editing techniques available at the film’s setting because movie camera’s had just been invented. I’m pretty sure this was shot digitally and, of course there are CG ghosts, but I thought it was a nice touch nonetheless, especially since the Gothic-Victorian setting is so rarely used.
Alyssa: There were a lot of great references to old horror/suspenseful movies that made it a lot more fun to watch such as the ghost woman in the bathtub like The Shining or the scene at the end where Alan is holding Edith and taking her out of the house like in Notorious. There are Hitchcock references all over the movie and I think it was a great touch.
Tyler: I also thought a lot about Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
Rachel: Speaking of things like CGI and the ghost lady in the tub, I’m curious to know what your general thoughts were about the visual effects and such. At times I was completely blown away, such as with the heavy gore moments (Edith’s father’s death), and other times I felt like it was visually cheap. I am specifically talking about the Tower of Terror-esque ghost of Thomas, where the film nearly went into Disney territory. I can see how that might have been an attempt at a throwback to older gothic mediums and/or shows like The Twilight Zone, though.
Tyler: I think some of that might be that the ghosts of Edith’s mother and the Sharpe’s mother weren’t as anthropomorphised as Thomas’. Considering the ghosts were CG and that Del Toro is known for using practical make-up on many of his creatures, I thought the ghosts were very impressive.
Alyssa: I loved the painting of their mother. Everyone in the theater laughed when it was on the screen and it reminded me of something out of Haunted Mansion at Disney World.
Tyler: I also was surprised that the painting of the mother didn’t look more like Lucille (Chastain) since I thought for a bit that the Sharpes were somehow killing these women to take their life force to always stay young. I think I came up with this and other alternate story twists because I ended up being disappointed with the actual twist being an incestual relationship between Thomas and Lucille. Maybe I’m just desensitized to that as a twist with shows like Game of Thrones breaking the incest narrative barrier or maybe I wanted there to be more supernatural elements in a movie that already has ghosts.
Alyssa: It’s very standardized gothic in that way that it’s not so much about the supernatural as it is about power, attraction, and romance.
Rachel: I kind of also felt that the incest plot twist was a bit “easy,” but I also see what you’re saying Alyssa, in that this is first and foremost meant to be a traditional gothic story, and I can appreciate it on that front. The story was simplistic and pretty much followed an expected trajectory, but the fact that I wasn’t too shocked by the twists didn’t put me off. I instead came away from the film in appreciation of the elements I was looking forward to in the first place — the visuals, the aesthetic, and a somewhat-classic ghost story.