Crimson Peak ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Crimson Peak is the kind of new movie we don’t see very often, a costume drama set in a long-ago time (early 1900s), when the automobile was a novelty and a lot of the streets weren’t paved yet, at least in America. It’s a combination gothic love story, Victorian ghost story and horror fantasy, with touches of Henry James, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Bronte thrown in.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) lives with her well-to-do father, Carter Cushing, in a beautiful house in Buffalo, New York. When she is ten years old, the ghost of her mother appears to her (a black, horrible, decaying ghost) to give her a warning about “crimson peak.” She doesn’t know what it means but she knows it has some meaning that will be revealed to her at a later time. Fourteen years later she is an aspiring novelist who has the usual problems that novice writers have—she’s not writing about what she knows or feels and she can’t get a publisher interested in her work. She has an old friend named Alan McMichael who is an ophthalmologist. While Alan is romantically interested in Edith, she doesn’t seem to reciprocate his feelings. Then along comes a handsome aristocrat from England. He’s a baronet and his name is Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). He’s in America with his forbidding sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), trying to get funding for a machine he has invented that extracts clay from the earth that is used in brick-making.
Edith’s father doesn’t like Sir Thomas Sharpe and, not only does he turn him down for funding for his machine, he has him investigated when it becomes apparent that Sir Thomas and Edith are becoming romantically involved. The investigation turns up some dirt on Sir Thomas and his sister, but it’s no less than Edith’s father suspected. He gives the Sharpes a sizeable check to leave America and go back to England, thereby breaking Edith’s heart and insulting her writing in the bargain.
Soon Edith’s father is brutally and mysteriously murdered, leaving Edith the recipient of all his money. Just when we thought Sir Thomas had gone back to England with his sister, he turns up again. With Edith’s father out of the way, he is free to marry Edith and take her to his family home, a decaying gothic mansion that sits on top of a clay mine in an extremely isolated region in England. The place is in such disrepair, we learn, because the once-wealthy Sharpe family is now poor. Edith’s money is going to come in very handy here.
Edith is visited by another hideous ghost in the Sharpe mansion, delivering yet another warning. (It turns out to be the ghost of Sir Thomas and Lucille’s mother, whom Lucille murdered). In a series of startling and distasteful revelations, Edith discovers that she is just one in a succession of “heiresses” who have fallen prey to the Sharpes. She also discovers that Lucille, who has always been too eager to have her drink a cup of tea, has been poisoning her. That’s why she hasn’t been feeling very well lately. Soon, however, her admirer from America, Dr. Alan McMichael, shows up unexpectedly. Will he be able to rescue Edith, or will he also fall prey to the Sharpes’ machinations?
Crimson Peak has a throwback-to-an-earlier-time feel to it, so, for that reason, a lot of people probably aren’t going to like it. If you are one of those who can suspend disbelief and put away your skepticism for a couple of hours, you might enjoy it. Besides ghosts, there are some fabulous sets and period costumes, and who can do evil better than Jessica Chastain? If you don’t want to kill her when her back is turned, well, you’re just not a very feeling person.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp