It is, rather, a ‘gothic romance’, more closely related to Jane Eyre, Rebecca or Wuthering Heights than to some slasher flick, more concerned with showing off its lavish set design than with spooking the audience with cheap jump scares – although a few of those do creep their way in.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith, who lives in 19th-century New York and who writes stories with ghosts instead of romance at their heart.
She declares that she’d prefer to emulate Mary Shelley than Jane Austen and sets about typing up her work instead of handwriting it, in order to minimize the ‘femininity’ of her loops and letters.
The young Dr. McMichael is initially introduced as a possible love interest for Edith, but he ends up overlooked when Sir Thomas Sharpe waltzes (near literally) onto the scene.
Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) is Mysterious with a capital M. Something about his dark hair and attire makes him stand out amongst the swirly-skirted Manhattanites Edith normally mixes with.
He’s charming, creative, seems impressed by her artistic talent and has a posh English accent. But Edith’s father senses that something is not quite right with Sharpe and his sister (Jessica Chastain).
They are After Something, and Crimson Peak manages to keep the audience guessing for most of the film as to what exactly their motives are.
Given that this is quite a twisty tale, it’s difficult to discuss without giving too much of the plot away. It’s safe to say, however, that the dénouement is weird, wacky, and refreshingly unpredictable.
But the narrative takes second place to what we actually see on screen.
The frills of the costumes, the glow of the candlesticks, even the curls of the characters’ hairstyles are all dripping with splendour.
The richness of the film’s primarily black, red and gold palette leaves a lasting impression on the viewer’s imagination.
When the action moves to Cumbria in the second half of the movie, the camera sets about exploiting the desolate English moorland for all that it’s worth.
The Sharpes’ house is surrounded for miles around by near-barren fields and precious little else. And then the snow comes.
So much snow seeps on to the scene that the audience may start to get a chill whilst they’re sitting in their cinema seats.
My Norwegian friend found the idea that there could be so much snow in England more difficult to believe in that the ghostly aspect of the story. The snow even manages to sneak inside the Sharpe mansion, although their old building is so worn down that that particular plot development could hardly be construed as one of the most surprising.
If you go to see this movie, be prepared for ghosts, glamour, and quite a bit of intrigue. One could possibly make the argument that it’s too melodramatic, but this is a film that really makes the most of its melodrama; it thrives on it. It’s a wild ride.
But it manages to whisk its audience away on that ride, to charm and to stun them into going along with it.