Crimson Peak is rich with symbolism and subtext, so Drew and I decided to really dish on our feelings here. We’re gonna spoil the hell out of it, so please, don’t read any further if you haven’t seen the film.
T: To start, I think Lucille’s death wasn’t thematically fitting enough. Del Toro sets up so many beautiful ways to kill her in this movie, with the giant butcher knife, the digging machine, or the house collapsing on her. I almost feel like she would’ve gone down with the ship, sinking into the clay.
D: Her death was a little lackluster, especially in comparison to Hiddleston’s fantastic face-gouging and bloody tear. But man, Chastain gives such a fantastic performance.
I love how no one cares about all the red clay bleeding from the walls. It’s such a cliché horror image/idea, but ignoring it makes it so much creepier.
Is this the first film to highlight del Toro’s love of old-timey wind-up toys? I remember on one of the Criterion supplements he showcased his collection of them and I immediately thought, “Wonder what movie that’s gonna show up in.”
T: Guillermo loves automatons. Kroenen from Hellboy is a fleshy Nazi automaton.
D: Good point.
T: And yeah, that face-stabbing is one of the moments of the year for me. I made a sound in the theater, something like “aukgh!” when it happened. And then he pulls the fucking knife OUT, which was even better. The sounds, oh, the sounds it made.
Speaking of wounds, I love that Chastain was given a scar on her upper lip to mirror Hiddleston’s real one. That feels very del Toro. It’s a moment from Hellboy II.
Chastain’s really giving it her all as Lucille, but you have to admit the character is arch to the point of being silly. When Lucille and Edith are racing around Allerdale Hall, their giant hair and clothes flapping about as they slash at each other, it’s a little zany. But in a good way, though. A way that kept me grinning.
D: That’s okay when it’s appropriately matched to the material. There should be overt theatricality to that kind of villain. And I stand by my Disney influence when it comes to the film’s cartoonier elements. Even the music and mood of the first act felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
T: Edith is very much a princess type. Bookish, beautiful, and locked up in a castle by her overbearing (but not wicked) father.
D: There’s even a ghost playing a piano and a long vertical portrait (I love that Doug Jones was the mother). Del Toro definitely got some of his Haunted Mansion mojo out in this film.
T: Absolutely. This renders the whole Haunted Mansion thing obsolete. Been there, done that.
Did you see this in lie-max?
D: Yes, if only for the speakers to help drown out any potential talkers. I also saw it at the latest showing possible, and there were less than ten people in there including me.
T: I saw it in a standard theater at 8:00 PM, and FUCK was the audience rude.
D: That sucks. Were they acting like they got Godzilla-ed (the bait and switch) or were they just the usual batch of theater-going scum?
T: Well, I could tell the audience wasn’t very engaged. The couple behind me whispered and snickered all the way through. The woman couldn’t contain her laughter when Chastain and Wasikowska were running around at the end. When Chastain goes “HAAAH!!” at Wasikowska in the clay pits, she laughed hysterically. There was a guy on his phone to my right, and a phone-checking peanut gallery in front of me. They just weren’t on the same wavelength with the movie at all.
D: You’re lucky I wasn’t there. I go ballistic with real rude patrons. Just confronting most people gets them to shut up. And yeah, I foresee this film’s CinemaScore being a bad one.
T: Yeah. I think the typical American moviegoer is not cut out for Crimson Peak.
D: No way. It’s abrasive to their need for constant propulsion and spelling things out to the audience. I bet this movie gets some serious appreciation in the European market.
T: It’d better. I’m willing to bet that’s why Legendary and the other financiers were willing to provide a reported 55 million dollar production budget.
D: That movie looks like 75 million at the very least. If you told me it was 100 million, I’d believe it. Allerdale Hall alone looks like it cost a glorious fortune.
T: It’s crazy expensive-looking. I mean, reported production budgets are almost always a nice little lie, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget was quite a bit higher.
D: I love how del Toro isn’t a filmmaker who goes gaga for gore, so when he does get violent, you feel it. The face-gouge and that sink murder are so visceral. I squirmed both times.
T: Oh, the dent in Edith’s father’s forehead is sooo gross. Like the nose smashing in Pan’s Labyrinth.
Say, why do you think Edith’s mother and Lucille’s ghost were oil black? Edith’s final VO says something about ghosts preserved because of love. You’ve got the red murder-ghosts, but then ghost-Thomas looks like Santí from Backbone.
D: Thomas is the only male ghost (aside from the baby) and he’s stark white. The female ghosts who aren’t buried in red clay are black. Maybe gender denotes ghost coloring?
T: I’m not sure about gender. I doubt del Toro would let it be that easy. Did you have a favorite ghost?
D: The only one that made me jump was the one in the closet with the bugged out eyes, but Enola and her baby hit that sweet spot of disturbing and beautiful.
T: The one we see stalking Edith in the bathroom with the hollow face is my favorite, but it only gets one closeup. We see its corpse in the pit later, but I love it in motion. I like how it has a missing ring finger.
Do you have the Devil’s Backbone criterion?
D: Yes, though I’ve only watched it once.
T: I think it’s time for a revisit, with commentary. I can’t wait to hear GDT’s commentary for Crimson Peak.
D: Oh god yes, especially since it’s easily his most self-indulgent film, and he’s a guy who primarily makes self-indulgent films.
T: I’m so happy that legendary let him indulge on this one, even if he made a film that was a bit unwieldy. It’s similar to Django Unchained in that way.
D: Another self-indulgent filmmaker, haha. As long as they come at their films with the right balance of passion and knowledge, I’m okay with overly idiosyncratic films.
That’s the problem with most low budget horror: the passion often outweighs the knowledge and skill required.
T: So when people describe a film’s setting as being a character, how do you feel about that? Because I think it’s bullshit. Settings are settings. You could use a setting as a character or vice versa, but 99% of the time, that’s not what people are talking about when they say shit like “New York is a character in the movie!”
D: It depends. I think when people say that, they often mean the setting HAS such character as to feel essential to the film, like New York and Ghostbusters, the Orca in Jaws, the Enterprise for Star Trek etc. If we are sticking to Crimson Peak, I think Allerdale Hall is brimming with character and does feel alive thanks to it’s constant decay, oozing walls and prolific moth population.
T: Sure. It’s a fantastic setting, and very alive, but it’s not a character. It’s a place for characters to interact, albeit a very important one. Speaking of sets, did you get a good look at that morgue set? It’s only in the film for one scene, but my god…
D: Yeah, del Toro never wasted any of his practical sets. The movie deserves some production Oscar noms if nothing else.
T: I feel like it might be too much for the Oscar crowd. I think it’s so grotesquely overdone that they might think the design in poor taste. But grotesquely overdone totally works in context.