Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak is not your typical horror movie. In fact, despite the marketing, it's not really a horror movie at all, but the gothic romance in the style of The Mysteries of Udolpho or The Castle of Otranto (both of which, by the way, are available on Google books and well worth a read).

It's 1901, the fin de siècle, and Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowski) is the lovely, bookish daughter of a steel magnate. Edith is sensitive, intelligent, and strong-willed - and, oh yeah, she can see ghosts. A handsome young doctor, Alan McMichael (played by Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy), is clearly in love with her, but she's swept off her feet by an impoverished young nobleman, Sir Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston.

Her doting father disapproves of the match and tries to run off Sir Thomas and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), but after he is brutally murdered, Edith and Sir Thomas marry. Things quickly take a sinister turn once Edith is ensconced in decrepit, thoroughly haunted Allerdale Hall, the ancestral home of the Sharpes.

I don't want to give anything away, so I'll halt the plot summary here to say that I sincerely enjoyed this movie. I've read some gothic romances, including a few novels by Mrs. Radcliffe (author of the aforementioned Mysteries of Udolpho) and Jane Austen's satire of the genre, Northanger Abbey. If you're familiar with the tropes of the genre, this movie will have few surprises for you. Actually, to be honest, even if you're not, if you're paying even a little bit of attention you'll probably see the twists coming.

What made this movie such a pleasure for me had less to do with plot than with style, though. It's beautiful. Guillermo del Toro is well known for his gorgeous visuals - if you've seen Pan's Labyrinth or the Hellboy movies, you know what I'm talking about - and he doesn't disappoint here. The Gilded Age splendor of Philadelphia is luscious, all velvet, brocade, and dark wood; the costuming is just as rich, with Edith decked out in stunning suits and dresses in shades of gold and champagne. It stands in stark contrast to the medieval decay of Allerdale Hall. The red clay deposits that it sits atop cause the walls to ooze a substance that looks very much like blood. Black moths cover the walls, and snow and dead leaves swirl down through a massive hole in the roof. The costuming also takes on a strong pre-Raphaelite bent, which only becomes more apparent as the story goes on. Honestly, it's an amazing bit of casting and costuming coming together, because Jessica Chastain looks so much like Elizabeth Siddal (Dante Rossetti's wife and muse) it's uncanny.

I'd read a fair number of reviews before I saw the movie, and most of them agreed that the movie wasn't particularly scary. Personally, I found it quite unnerving, but I have this thing about ghosts so your mileage may vary with that bit. It's creepy, moody, and a little overwrought (which I think suits the subject matter pretty well), and the strong cast takes dialog that might come across as a bit silly and makes it appropriately dramatic.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the movie. It's perfect for the Halloween season, or any other time when you're in the mood for something dark and beautiful. Also, you get to see Tom Hiddleston's butt, so that's cool.