Beware Of Crimson Peak And Its Ghosts

by Rachel Bellwoar

Put yourself in the mind of a ghost. You’re trying to warn someone to stay away from this certain building. You know you don’t have much time. Do you a) call it by a nickname that’s not widely known, so you can say “I told you so” later, or b) use its actual name, which isn’t any longer, and accomplish what you set out to do.

It’s not hard to figure out how Allerdale Hall got the nickname Crimson Peak, nor is it the only thing suspicious about Thomas Sharpe’s courting of Edith Cushing (her father refused to finance his project and now he needs the money), but Edith does read up on Allerdale Hall before she gets there (and as modern as Buffalo, New York was in 1901, that still means researching it in a book) and all it would’ve taken was the ghost saying its real name for her to get the message. Nothing about the ghosts in Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is usual, though, and the bonus features on Arrow’s new Blu-Ray take great care to demonstrate why Crimson Peak is a gothic romance, not a horror film.
The fact of the matter is, though, Del Toro’s ghosts are scary. In the featurette, “Crimson Phantoms,” you can see the actors and what they looked like before the addition of CGI details. Physically they’re frightening but it’s their behavior that’s menacing, too. The first ghost Edith (Mia Wasikowska) encounters is her mother but it’s a terrifying experience, not a happy one.
When you listen to del Toro’s commentary, however, you realize he doesn’t just see ghosts as supernatural beings and that they’re not the only ghosts that speak to Edith in this movie. Edith, herself, calls ghosts a metaphor for the past, and just as people are afraid of ghosts, this fear of the past carries over to Kate Hawley’s costume designs.
Edith’s father (Jim Beaver), in particular, is called out for being afraid to look his age (which would seem to indicate he prefers the past), yet when it comes to the Sharpes (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain), who wear clothes that are tailored but outdated, he’s very weary of them. Edith, on the other hand, is both the character who talks to ghosts and who isn’t afraid to look older than she is (which is often true, when she wears her glasses). Given the fact that she’s also a writer, her glasses tie in with her craft but when Edith moves to Crimson Peak, she doesn’t write as often. She also looks younger and wears her hair down more.
Del Toro wants you to pick his film apart like this and some of the best bonus features on Arrow’s Blu-Ray are the featurettes that focus on specific parts of the house, like the corridor or the scullery, which were all built from scratch for this movie. Whether you’re a fan of all of del Toro’s recurring motifs (like the butterfly and moth imagery) it’s amazing to realize how extensive they go (like the chair Edith sits in, that grows larger over time, or the sleeves on her dresses, meant to look like butterfly wings).
If anything is missing, it’s some featurettes that can be more objective. Kim Newman and Kat Ellinger both provide new video essays (Ellinger’s, in particular, is fantastic, focusing on four of Del Toro’s films and how they fall somewhere between gothic romance and fairy tale) but they’re covering specific topics.
Del Toro openly admits he places setting and character before plot and this Blu-Ray should be a love letter to Crimson Peak and its accomplishments, but some acknowledgement of the leaps in logic towards the end (particularly the physical shape of the two white knights) wouldn’t be out of line. If only to say they might have been overly optimistic, it would be better than not addressing them at all.
Crimson Peak is available on Blu-Ray starting October 22nd from Arrow.

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