I have got to start seeing movies in a more timely way, either at the movie theater or when they’re first released at home. It’s not such a thing this week, when something inspires me to talk about its antecedents (⇐this is not the nerdiest the post is going to get), as say, Star Wars, when six weeks after it’s out, I’m like “Let me tell you all my feelings!” and y’all are like, yes, but I heard that in the next movie…
Well, maybe not y’all, because my readers are pretty cool.
So, anyway. Crimson Peak. This movie was like they threw all my favorite things in a cinematic gift bag:
- Director Guillermo del Toro
- OMG the wardrobe
- Spooky $%*#
- Tom Hiddleston looking even more Byronic than usual
- Creepy house
- The most Gothic gothiciness that ever gothicked.
I mean, just look at it:
Obviously, I love the gothic novel, since I’ve written two of them. (One is even titled Texas Gothic. (link) ) And I was interested to see what someone with such as visually interesting as del Toro would come up with.
Let’s skip the history of how the Gothic novel came out of the counter-Enlightenment movement of Romanticism. The gothic story has some very distinct elements:
- An innocent heroine, very often an orphan or otherwise cut off.
- An isolated setting that evokes mystery and dread. It’s gloomy, usually decaying. Extra points for secret passages or hidden staircases.
- Supernatural beings (or what appear to be supernatural goings on)
- Curse or prophecies. (I actually thing this, along with the idea of ghosts, has to do with the feeling of the past affecting or threatening the present events.)
- A Byronic hero–brooding, enigmatic, slightly dissipated and untrustworthy air.
- Romance, or a romantic sensibility.
Most importantly there’s a sense of physical danger, psychological horror, and spiritual peril.
That leaves a lot to play with, plot-wise. You can tick all the boxes (like the popular gothic romances that Jane Austen sent up in Northanger Abbey), or you can stay in the spirit, evoking the sense of heightened dread and dark tone and atmosphere. Jane Eyre and Frankenstein are both considered gothic novels (among other things).
So, back to Crimson Peak. This movie ticks all the boxes, but in a self-aware Northanger Abbey way. The movie, though, is more of an homage than a parody.
First of all, it calls itself out, right away. Austen and Brontë are mentioned right off. The heroine wants to be an author, and when a publisher dismisses her “ghost story,” she says that there are ghosts in it, but it’s not about ghosts. The ghosts represent the past. (⇑ See what I did there? Fourth bullet point.) And obviously that’s how this story goes, too.
My interest then became less “what will happen” and more “how is that going to happen, or how will that play out.” Maybe that makes it predictable, but kind of in the same way as a Romantic Comedy or a Western is predictable. Mostly you know you’re going to end up at the opposite ends of the town’s muddy main street, drawing your guns at high noon.
So bookish Edith falls in love with charismatic but mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe, marries him (oh, she’s rich by the way), and he takes her away to his literally falling down mansion where he lives with his crazy-eyed sister, who you know is going to be trouble. And then there are forbidden rooms and locked trunks and strange noises…
And there were these bonuses:
- Charlie Hunnam!
- Bobby from Supernatural!
- Puppy! Even better? Papillon puppy!
The adorable dog was a smart touch, and I’m not just saying that because I gave the heroine of The Splendor Falls (link) one. Because of the type of story, I wasn’t too worried about Edith, but I spent a good part of that movie terrified something was going to happen to the dog.
The ghosts were also really terrifying, because they were gross. There were a couple of pretty horrific deaths, which also elevated the tension, because I didn’t want to see that grossness. Bleh. Which bears mentioning because the original gothic novels evoked dread more than the gross out, but when they did have blood and such, it took a lot less to be shocking.
So, final verdict? Would you enjoy Crimson Peak? Well, the costuming is gorgeous, the set is amazing, and the acting is really good. There’s enough danger during the story to keep the tension up. Obviously she doesn’t trust the sister, but can she trust Thomas? That was the big question throughout. (And Hiddleston really does well at keeping you guessing. Also, there’s a love scene, so if Hiddleston is your thing…)
You know, it occurs to me—and this is not a spoiler, and it’s not about the plot, just what floats my boat—I think I was less invested because I wanted Edith to stay in Boston with Charlie Hunnam’s character.
But then it wouldn’t have been a gothic story.
So, have any of you seen this? What’s your favorite gothic novel or movie, or movie of a novel? I could use recommendations.