This rambling review contains minor to major spoilers for the film as well as some mentions of incest, ableism, abusive relationships, and violent women. And of course paraphrasing. Lots of paraphrasing.
I loved the movie for the way that it definitely shone as an example of the Gothic Romance genre (while subverting several of its tropes!), for feisty heroine Edith Cushing, and the tensely spiraling relationship between her and the Sharpe siblings.
All that love aside though, it’s one of those movies where I can’t help but nitpick at it because while it was a gloriously eye-catching movie with unbelievable scenery and a messed up plot, it had issues on top of the good stuff.
The film managed to both exceed and kind of reaffirm my expectations for the film.
Going in, I assumed several things about the movie.
- I assumed that there would be no POC in recurring positions in the film.
- I assumed that the Sharpe siblings were either ghosts/immortals or boning.
- I assumed that we would see Tom Hiddleston’s butt.
- I assumed that it would be scary.
I was right on all counts except the last one.
First, let’s face it: Crimson Peak is a very white movie. Yeah, the cast of reoccurring characters is small because of the nature of the film, but that’s no excuse. Neither is the film’s setting or time period (in the mid/late nineteenth century??).
That’s one of the things I’ve spoken about, the fact that from the trailers alone I could tell that there wasn’t going to be anything resembling significant POC presence in the film. It bugs me that because this is a Gothic Romance film and set in a certain time period, people are giving it the okay to be this homogenous film where everyone of note is white.
It’s a movie with ghosts.
Trust me, historical accuracy seriously falls out of play when you include supernatural elements. And if you don’t have to explain away the supernatural aspects (like Edith’s ghost-seeing ability is never explained in the film), then you shouldn’t even think of explaining the lack of POC as “historical accuracy”. That’s just BS.
I counted three characters of color with dialogue. All of them were seen within the same ten minutes. Two were African American maids in the hotel room that the Sharpe siblings had recently vacated. The other was a valet in the building where Papa Cushing went to shave.
Seriously. The nature of the film doesn’t negate the need for diversity. Same goes for the genre and the setting. You can have a close, intimate cast and still make a diverse movie. You can have a movie about betrayal and obsession and all the things that Crimson Peak manages to pack into two hours and still have characters of color in the film that were more than servants.
Seriously, I’d kill for a Gothic Romance book/show/film where we had people of color in the leading roles.
Why couldn’t the Cushing family be Black or Chinese Americans? Why couldn’t the Sharpe Siblings be played by actors of color?
Like there’s a bit to unpack because okay, of course GDT and Matthew Robbins weren’t sitting around like “oh hey you know what I hate? People of color.” They probably didn’t even think about casting or writing any of the four main characters as characters of color and that is the problem.
Part of the movie is set in New York and we know from books like Black Gotham that there definitely were diverse Black American populations in the city. There’s no excuse for not thinking about casting actors of color or writing main roles for them.
This is Guillermo del Toro. The big GDT! I’m assuming that he has enough clout to write a movie with POC leads and show that it can make bank. He just didn’t think of it and that’s a big issue.
So while I was expecting the lack of POC in Crimson Peak, that doesn’t mean that I’m okay with it.
Next are the Sharpe Siblings.
Maybe it’s a holdover from my V.C. Andrew’s days, but I have a radar for messed up fictional relationships. From the first trailer, I figured that the Sharpe siblings were either vampires or they were boning.
Guess what –
They were boning. Super boning.
My best friend Bianca and I figured that out with their first interaction onscreen. The party scene that we see bits of in the different trailers ends with Thomas introducing Edith to Lucille and I swear to god, when he leans in to kiss her on the “cheek”, she turns and kisses him almost square on the mouth. Like at that point, we looked at each other and were like “they’re doing each other” and we so weren’t wrong.
I mean… I’m used to having problematic ships, but this is ridiculous. The Sharpe siblings’ relationship is codependent and creepy. I had bad-wrong vibes the entire time and they only got stronger. Legit, V. C. Andrews wishes she was alive to write their relationship.
(Okay – it’s canon that they were intimate from very young and there’s definitely uncomfortable aspects about the fact that it feels like Lucille kind of drew her younger brother into this relationship. I’m listening to the audiobook right now and hoping for more insight since there was a lot of screaming while we were watching the movie and I figure that I can always use more info, but okay there’s really nothing positive about their relationship.)
Thomas is… he’s not the best character. He’s weak. Like that’s so not nice but it’s true. He’s easily led by his sister and you have to wonder how much of the events of the film are his fault and how much are hers because they’re both really terrible people who make terrible decisions. (I mean, you come to find out that it’s all her but whatever – )
I have a lot of issues with Lucille.
She’s a good bad guy in that she’s scary, cruel, and willing to do horrible things to achieve her goals. But she’s also terrible. I mean she’s the actual worst. She’s literally responsible for killing her mother and a bunch of other women and god only knows how many other people because she’s TERRIBLE. She sees people as means to an end and even Thomas, who is arguably the most important person in her life, is kind of an object to her. He’s a possession.
Lucille is just a creepy character. I mean…
She’s a murderer (killing innocent people she essentially lured to their deaths along with her own mother).
She initiated an incestuous relationship with her younger brother.
She’s manipulated her brother (into these relationships where they killed off his wives, into manipulating Edith, possibly into their romantic and sexual relationship).
She’s wickedly possessive.
There’s really nothing to like about her and that’s fine because we don’t have to like everyone in every movie but wow, when a movie only has four main characters, it’s a little intense.
Next for the stuff in the film that I did expect on some level: Tom Hiddleston’s butt.
I didn’t watch any of the interviews where they talk about seeing him naked until after I already saw the movie. I just have a sixth sense for this sort of thing. If there’s going to be nudity in a film, chances are that I’ll have figured it out from the trailer. I’m fantastic like that.
The trailer was sexy.
The actual scene in the movie where Hiddles-as-Thomas looks like he’s going to go down on Edith before flashing us his butt and getting the ride of a lifetime?
Yeah. That’s even hotter. Talk about scorching. We were in a theater with like an entire senior class of high schoolers and when the pants came off, they screamed. I nearly screamed with them.
It was glorious. It was really tender and super intimate. And we saw Hiddles!butt. It was so nice. Like it’s not a booty by any means (and I will side-eye anyone that calls it that), but it was just lovely. Definitely a high point and a really nice change from most movies where you have the sex scene focusing on a woman’s breasts and ass.
I do think though that while that specific sex scene was sex positive and showed Edith in a role of power that isn’t tempered by her being half-dead from terror, the whole movie isn’t sex positive. I mean, how can it be?
The only other sex scene in the film is between the Sharpe siblings (and is so uncomfortable to watch because it’s really pretty because Hiddles and Jessica Chastain look so good together but well… they’re playing siblings).
The only other romantic relationship? The Sharpe siblings.
I don’t think that the 5 minutes of Edith/Thomas trying a girl-on-top position makes up for the fact that I don’t think that you really can’t have a sex positive movie that also includes incest and really obvious power imbalances in these sexual relationships. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not.
But I have seen a fair amount people calling this movie sex-positive and I think that’s maybe a label this movie doesn’t quite earn.
If you want to tell me otherwise, go for it. I’m all ears and here at least, I recognize that my biases and experiences color my opinions.
And I expected Crimson Peak to be scary.
It… kind of wasn’t.
Sure, there are a shit ton of jump scares and ghosts literally coming out of the walls, but looking back at it I don’t think that it was actually scary.It was more grotesque and shocking than anything. I didn’t feel like I was affected by the film’s frightful moments. I was too busy going “oh my god what is wrong with these people” to be afraid of ghosts.
(And I guess I probably should’ve believed GDT in his comments about how CP wasn’t a horror film… I thought he was pulling our leg and we were going to get like this ultimate horror experience as a “haha you fell for it” kind of thing. Seriously, you’ll see me talk about it a little further down in this review but the characters that we’re essentially supposed to be afraid of are the ones that look like perfectly normal people and that’s just not a thing I was expecting. The trailers look like one thing and the movie is… quite a bit different tbh.)
Alright now: let’s talk about the stuff that I didn’t expect.
I didn’t expect to like Edith as much as I did.
I mean, I know I’d like her because I have thing about Mia Wasikowska. I saw Jane Eyre for her. That’s how bad I have it for her. However, I wasn’t sure that I’d like Edith so much.
Not until this scene early on where she’s talking to Alan’s mother and sister and her mother tries to make a glib comment about how Edith is going to be a spinster like Jane Austen. Instead of reacting in an angry way, Edith is like “I’d rather be like Mary Shelley, she died a widow.”
I was in love with her from then, but then the core of her strength was just overwhelming. In the same position as Edith, I’d probably have been dead.
So dead. Considering that I left the movie still talking about how pretty I still found Hiddles-as-Thomas to be, I’d have been dead the second I reached England because I would have been too busy trying to get into his pants to realize that everything was wrong. So the fact that Edith survived the horror of what Thomas and Lucille were and were doing along with the ghosts is like amazing to me.
I actually like Edith as a main character.
Edith is so cute but at the same time, she’s also got this determination to succeed. She’s actually a character that I find admirable. She’s this tiny freaking badass and okay, I actually want to see something in the future where she and Alan are a mystery-solving duo that occasionally bang like a screen door in Florida.
Now I kind of expected some ableism because of that clip where Lucille and Thomas were talking at the piano and she’s all like “they’ll put me away”. This is the genre of women in sanatoriums and locked up in attics. So I was absolutely unsurprised by the ableism inherent in the film.
I could’ve done without the gas-lighting though. An integral part of manipulation, both Sharpe siblings used it against Edith. It is so hard to even think about either Sharpe sibling as sympathetic when you realize that they essentially torture Edith and tell her that she shouldn’t trust her own mind. Like it’s so hard to watch because like she’ll be sobbing and Lucille/Thomas are like “nope you’re wrong, you’re just delusional”.
Seriously… I would’ve been okay without that.
I am super fascinated by the way that GDT/Robbins use ghosts in this movie. In most films, the ghosts (especially ones that look like the ones in this movie) are the bad guys. They’re hideous and horrifying and therefore evil. In Crimson Peak, appearances are misleading. The creepiest-looking characters aren’t the ones out to hurt Edith. That honor goes to the Sharpe siblings who don’t look anywhere near as awful as they actually are (although they are super shady). Here, ghosts are actually helpful (if not necessarily good).
I like that though, that you kind of go into this movie expecting one thing and you get something entirely different. That’s the big draw for Crimson Peak for me, that it really wasn’t what I expected in many ways and it was glorious for it.
My pet peeves with the film (the gas-lighting, intense focus on incest, and the fact that GDT/Robbins didn’t think to write in reoccurring roles for actors of color) are mildly tempered by the fact that it’s super pretty and it has gorgeous scenes, violence that feels realistic but not gratuitous, and of course Tom Hiddleston’s butt.
(Okay, yeah, the butt makes up for way more than it probably should, but I have needs.)
Sure, I’m absolutely going to buy the DVD just so I can stare at Hiddles because I am weak, but if you liked anything that V.C. Andrews did and have ever thought that Anne Rice was a goddess of Gothic Romance, you’ll probably love Crimson Peak. And not just for the Hiddles!butt and Mia W playing a plucky and adorable heroine who gets shit done.
Did you see Crimson Peak? If so, feel free to chat with me about it! If you’re like me and you have thoughts about diverse gothic romance and how we could incorporate POC into the genre, I’d especially like to hear your thoughts!