Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Overlook Theatre Reviews: Guillermo Del Torro's Crimson Peak

of 6 viewers "Liked" "Crimson Peak" (USA, 2015)
Here's what the citizens of the Overlook Theatre had to say:

Math Mage - "Exposed gears, creepy bugs, and buckets of slime; all of Del Toro's favorite things are present but done in a retained and tasteful manner. I kept worrying our heroine was going to fall into the slime or get swarmed by bugs but those problems never materialized. Instead, those aspects were used in service to the film's theme of juxtaposition (beauty vs brutality, reason vs emotion, red vs white). Del Toro's best work." - 4 Stars

Speed Demon - "Guillermo DelToro definitely delivers yet again. Perfect amount of everything. Love, brutality, and creepyness. One of my favorite things about this movie were the sets. Gothic, dark, and eerie. A must see for sure. No matter what genre you prefer I'm sure you will enjoy this one." - 4 Stars

The Berkeley Blazer - "A movie sometimes hits all the right buttons for you, and Crimson Peak was easy to enjoy because it appealed to things I intrinsically like. Gothic romance? Literary allusions? Regency/Romantic period England? Incredibly detailed and colorful Gothic set design as only Del Toro can deliver? Hiddleston, Chastain, and Wasikowska under one roof? Ghosts that actually look terrifying? So much appeals to me and yet, dear reader, the movie itself is really a fascinating romp, and when all the skeletons are unearthed I found I was truly satisfied with the overall result. I would never pretend to be objective about this movie, but I can say with confidence that it is a so-solid-it's-crystal pairing of Torosian talent and Byronic/Brontesque/Shellysian tradition." - 4.5 Stars

Lord Battle - "As a powerfully visual auteur director, Guillermo Del Toro takes a generally romantic genre like Gothic Horror and lets its beauty shine by juxtaposing it with striking horror. After a particularly violent moment in the first act, Crimson Peak seems to have no limit as to how violent or despicable its horrors may be and this sets the film free in a way I could have never imagined. Crimson Peak still has all the wonders of a beautiful fantasy but only now juxtaposed against a very adult horror can we truly appreciate the wonders as they were meant to be. If Pacific Rim hadn't made me feel like a 10 year old again, Crimson Peak would have been the first." - 4.5 Stars

Huntress - "I'm so glad I was wrong about what this movie was going to be like; I should have known that Guillermo del Toro wouldn't make something as cheap as the previews for Crimson Peak made it seem like it would be. Rather than hiding jump scares at every tension filled turn, Crimson Peak was filled with beautiful sets and haunting histories, all of which are carefully revealed with the most devastating timing. There is a deeper meaning behind so much of this film and I feel like I didn't realize all of it, so I can't wait to rewatch it. Del Toro's passion for film making is very obvious in Crimson Peak; it can be seen in everything from the details of the haunted mansion, to the opposing colors in so many of the shots." - 5 Stars

The Impostor - "Del Toro has done it again! I went in not sure what to expect and Crimson Peak blew me away. Visuals were very creative and beautiful, adding to the overall experience, as did the soundtrack. Tension filled and kept me guessing from beginning to end, Crimson Peak is another Del Toro masterpiece that I highly recommend to horror and non horror fans alike. I'm sure this film will remain on your mind for a bit after watching." - 4.5 Stars

The Overlook Theatre Final Rating*
(Below is for after you've seen the film)

Reader, she married him!  Marrying Sir Thomas Sharpe turns out to be a big mistake for Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska),  but then what Gothic romance would be complete without a fresh young girl being consumed by the leftover progeny of a great family that has rotted away?  A fine film Guillermo Del Toro has given us, and one that respects the aesthetic provided by the Gothic literature of the Romantic/Regency periods of English literature. The foundational Gothic novels of Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto, 1764) and Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho,1794) are felt immediately both in the look and tone of the movie, at least when we get to the house at Allerdale Hall, which turns out to be a rotting, bloody torso of a mansion that hides gory secrets all over its body, from its crimson bowels to its blackened, shattered skull.

Print from German version of The Castle of Otranto, Wikipedia commons

Despite all the Gothic love being spread in this movie, it initially reminded me of the work of Henry James, specifically his treatment of “the American abroad” theme.  In James’ Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer is a loaded American debutante who jumps at her chance to visit the society of the old world, where she is exposed to the charming cultivation and history of Europe, as well as its sometimes perverse entanglements and conniving greed.  Both Edith and Isabel are young women resolute in maintaining their independence, at least until they come across men who are both exceedingly charming, highly erudite, and as it turns out, masters of manipulation. The fresh, independent American girl is taken for her wealth by men who, for all their worldliness, are merely lustful and greedy. Of course, in both Crimson Peak and Portrait of a Lady, it’s not quite that simple, and while Del Toro’s film does not carry the psychological depth of a Henry James it does manage to do an impressive job of presenting a Jamesian leitmotif in a Gothic romance that is simultaneously repulsive and fascinating. Part of the pleasure of watching both ladies’ journeys is observing Edith come into or perhaps regain a stronger form of their initial independence.  At first when Edith thinks she is in the height of domestic bliss, she is cheerful and accepting of the decaying manse, and optimistic about the future of her husband Lord Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). As the spirits she encounters reveal more and more of the dark history of the house and its inhabitants, Edith becomes less trusting and begins to proactively investigate, donning her reading glasses and stealing keys and documents, engaging in risky subterfuge to figure out what exactly is going on with the Sharpe siblings, Sir Thomas Sharpe and Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), the perfect shady Europeans. Of course, the pattern of independent women's disarmament by a tall, dark, and handsome lord who seems to show much respect for their talents and mind, is reminiscent of the titular protagonist of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847).  Jane and Edith both have a moment of clarity and are able to hold their own after discovering that their marriage/impending marriage are not all sunshine and hemlock. After Jane discovers Lord Rochester’s “swarthy” secret in the attic of his crumbling manse at Thornfield Hall she resists the desperate entreaties of Lord Rochester despite her wanting nothing more than to fall into his arms.  Jane is able to resist because of her dedication to self respect and Edith manages to rebel as a matter of survival, but both Jane and Edith are made of that admirable mix of naivete and independence bore by their respective “tales of woe”, and both are at the outset on guard against men, at least until they are in a matrimonial situation with the darkly pale Englishmen of their dreams, and both react with a wounded sort of strength when they discover their lovers betrayal.  This intertextuality  becomes especially salient in the Crimson Peak since Wasikowska played Jane Eyre in Cari Fukunaga's (True Detective) cinematic adaptation of Jane Eyre (2011).
 When Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre she was not really writing a Gothic novel, but  using the Gothic novel as a vehicle to explore her ideas about being a woman, skillfully building a house centered around a dangerous and seductively charming lord.  Bronte was being a little cheeky and playful, using the genre to advance her own kind of Victorian brand of progressivism, much in the way Jane Austen used the wild imagination of Gothic novel readers in her Northanger Abbey (1817).  Tom Hiddleston's version of Mr. Rochester may be less honorable than the source but the characters are cut from the same cloth, and both hide their former marriages from their upstanding love object.  Both Jane Eyre and Edith are always striving, whether through writing or...governessing? be liberated financially, domestically, and sexually. The problem of women not being taken seriously is not an unusual theme for these kinds of stories, whether or not they are contemporary. Mary Shelley’s (Frankenstein, 1818) mother, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote what is considered by many a foundational text of modern feminism, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).  Despite the fact that many of the most popular books in Britain at the time were written by women, many like Jane Austen and George Eliot had to initially publish their work under male pseudonyms to be taken seriously, and in some cases to avoid the danger of embarrassing their families (proper ladies aren’t supposed to write, y’all). Crimson Peak has Edith dealing with such obstacles to her dream of writing a Gothic novel that will be published, going so far as to use a typewriter to hide her “overly feminine script”. Edith is a solid representation of her literary forbears, as is Jessica Chastain’s Lucille Sharpe, a red-haired vision straight out of a pre-Raphaelite painting, especially during the climax when she ferociously emerges from her austere restraint and unleashes her fury on the rest of the dramatis personae with her cleaver.

Veronica Veronese, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1872

 In this tradition, Lucille Sharpe is supposed to represent what passion looks like when unrestrained, and even the most progressive female authors like Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen stressed the virtues of restraint and the controlling of the passions. Lady Sharpe’s passion for her brother and her murderous disposition are only restrained when she wants to fool society or her adversaries, and thus she has become, according to the dictates of the story, a perverse soul. Even Charlotte's sister Emily, who seems in her seminal Wuthering Heights (1847) to have a deeper sympathy for the unrestrained soul, has her feral protagonist Cathy driven to tragedy by her passion.  So we see that in all these vicissitudes of the Gothic form, the drive to liberation is tempered by the general moores of the time, which prized restraint for women and men.  Del Toro avoids the temptation to modernize too much in this film, whereas another director might of had more sympathy for Lady Sharpe, who casts off the demands of the society around her for her forbidden love.  In many ways she is the ultimate Romantic heroine, a Byronic female figure who lives and dies by her passions and casts the world aside. In other words, though we are repulsed by the particular nature of her love, it is exactly this willingness to do anything for this love that makes her fascinating. Incest was also a prevalent theme in Gothic literature for reasons that are too myriad to go into here, but it is worth noting that this aspect of that film is a solidly gothic plot device. 

-The Berkeley Blazer

*Based on the star ratings turned in by character reviewers, others viewed and got to "Dislike" or "Like" but that does not effect the rating.

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