I’ve been sick with a spring cold or flu (who knows?) and so I’ve spent more time than usual in bed. You all know what that means…binge-watching TV. While I was searching for a true-crime documentary I haven’t seen already, I came across Crimson Peak, a 2015 film starring Tom Hiddleston, a favorite of mine. I’ll watch him in anything. It could be the combination of that accent and the piercing blue eyes, but there’s something about Hiddleston that I cannot flip past. I’m in. Every time. But Crimson Peak is a haunted tale and I generally avoid horror movies. I can’t stand them. I think people who watch horror movies have personal problems and sociopathic tendencies. I have no scientific knowledge to back that up, it’s just my opinion that watching people get slashed, burned, or mutilated is sick.
Then again, I watch true-crime documentaries. So who am I to judge? I have a dark side too. So I clicked on it and decided to tough it out for Tom’s sake. Whatever horrors awaited me could be assuaged by Tom’s brooding stare and devastatingly wicked British accent I want to be turned into a ringtone. Did I mention Crimson Peak is also a Victorian-era costume drama? I mean…how could anyone resist Tom Hiddleston in a cravat? Certainly, not me.
What unfolded for the next two hours was far more than a run-of-the-mill horror movie but was a gorgeous gothic ghost story that was just scary enough to be bone-chilling but bathed in Victorian beauty to take the edge off. The costumes are glorious including one unforgettable golden velvet dressing gown with puffed sleeves that is to die for. The sets are incredible, especially the creepy crumbling estate Allerdale Hall with walls and floors that bleed red liquid clay.
The story follows Edith Cushing, an heiress from Buffalo New York who is taken in by a handsome baronet who has fallen on hard times and needs an heiress to rally his failing mines in England. Sir Thomas Sharpe and his sister Lucille are on the hunt for the right girl to save their fortune. After falling for Sharpe, Edith travels with him and Lucille to her new home in a faraway land that is crawling with misery and horror. Without giving away the story, because it’s a good one and you should watch it, Crimson Peak delights with every frame from the sumptuous Victorian fashion to the haunting piano playing of the beautiful but madder-than-a-road-lizard Lucille. The ghost scenes are too frightening for a child but just the right amount of scary for an adult who doesn’t like being scared, leaning more toward Disney World’s Haunted Mansion than a fright-fest.
The tale itself is one of caution, that things aren’t what they seem, that greed can quickly turn into despicable acts of evil, while illustrating that people who do evil things can be redeemed. In one unforgettable scene, Edith and Lucille are watching butterflies dying in the park, and Edith remarks that it’s sad. “No, it’s not sad, Edith,” says Lucille. “It’s nature. It’s a savage world of things dying or eating each other right beneath our feet….beautiful things are fragile.”
It is that deceptive appearance of fragility that brings the entire criminal enterprise to a halt and in the end, the fragile butterfly manages to escape the clutches of the savage world set up to destroy her. Dan Jolin of Empire wrote that “It may be a little overwrought for some tastes, borderline camp at points, but if you’re partial to a bit of Victorian romance with Hammer horror gloop and big, frilly nightgowns, [director Guillermo del Torro] delivers an uncommon treat.” Yes! Yes! 1000 times yes to those incredible creations that billow behind the heroine like a lacey sail in the wind while racing through a haunted gothic castle lit only by a silver candelabra carried by a trembling hand.
Watch it. You won’t be disappointed.