Guillermo del Toro’s intensely dark Gothic horror is a fairytale for adults steeped in blood, mystery and passion. Young, aspiring writer Edith Cushing’s (Mia Wasikowska) life is permanently altered when she falls for the dashing English aristocrat, Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). He soon whisks her away from her New York home to his Gothic mansion deep in the English countryside.
However, Edith soon discovers that Sharpe’s home is haunted by ghosts and she slowly discovers dark secrets she was never meant to know. Mia Wasikowska’s bright-eyed Gothic heroine secures our sympathises from the outset, refusing to be bullied by the hypocrisy of her society, rebuking an insulting comment that she will die a spinster like Jane Austen by suggesting she’d rather be a widow, like Mary Shelley.
Despite her fits of insufferable terror, she never appears to be a damsel-in-distress as her fierce courage is present from the beginning. Every inch of the film is steeped with Gothic imagery. The Sharpe’s crumbling, remote mansion set in a snowy, barren landscape draws memories of Dracula’s lair. Whilst the mysteries Edith attempts to uncover behind Allerdale Hall’s locked doors and forbidden chambers mirrors Mia Wasikowska’s role as Jane Eyre.
Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to dark fairytale myths as Pan’s Labyrinth will testify, and here these connotations are interwoven to masterful effect as Edith begins to realise her fairytale marriage is, in reality, a nightmare. What is clever about the script is that the real scares are not what you expect. Grotesque as they may be the ghosts are not the threat, as it is the living, breathing characters that should be feared.
The ghosts of Crimson Peak, much like the ghosts in Edith’s novel, are a ‘metaphor’ for a past riddled with violence, deceit and treachery. The true horror of the story can be found in Jessica Christian’s devilishly sinister portrayal of the sister-in-law from hell, Lady Lucille Sharp. Like the ghosts that creep around the mansion, her dark presence is everywhere and alludes to something far more terrifying.
Guillermo del Toro is wise not to let his characters be sidelined by the magnificent sets and vivid CGI ghosts, as they are ultimately the ones who hold your attention. The performances themselves are terrific – Mia Wasikowska manages to balance a tricky blend of quivering fear and tough resilience and thanks to Jessica Christain’s unnerving portrayal of Lucille Sharpe, I may never be able to look at her in the same way again.
Tom Hiddleston’s excellent performance brings an air of sensitive vulnerability to Thomas Sharpe that flickers beneath his cruelty and sees him squirm against his elder sister’s violent hostility. Crimson Peak also features impressive supporting performances by Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver. Guillermo del Toro, along with his cast, are on top form here. Packed with shocks, jumps and intriguing characters – if you have an interest in any of the films multiple themes it is definitely worth buying a ticket!