Crimson Peak: A walk into the world of Gothic

What I most admire about the Gothic genre is its reiteration of the concept of polarities.

Guillermo Del Toro of the Pan’s labrynith’s fame, in an interview, talks about his inspiration of the color red. He associate it with M.R. James’s Vignette (1936) where the latter talks about an autobiographical encounter of a ghost which was ‘hot and pink’. A similar exploration of the color red and its association with the afterlife can be seen in Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) where the color red appears as a sneaky signature of the fact that Crowe (the psychologist administering to the ghost-sensitive child) is dead. Ironically, in the movie Crimson Peak, the imagery of hot and flowing blood can also be identified with life or at least unrest if put in contrast with the pale whites and the charcoal blacks. While Sharpe’s and his sister’s colors might be the aura of their carefully crafted personalities, as Cushing’s insists–a metaphor does run through these ghosts–the others are not as difficult. Edith Cushing’s mother is a charcoal black. The wives of Sir Thomas Sharpe are clay red. Against them, Thomas Sharpe himself is a pale white with a face marked by a closing scar.

In one of her first close encounters with the ghosts, she rush to ask her husband if any ‘violent deaths’ were witnessed in the mansion. Violent deaths generally succeed with vengeance or unrest. However it is interesting to note that these ghosts do not harm the murderer but are daring enough to scare the gods out of their killer’s next victim with their gaunt smoky figures that remind me of the female ghost of Mama (2013). Perhaps because Javier Botet is acting and supervising the mannerisms of ghosts in both the movies. Apart from Botet, Mama and Crimson Peak also share Jessica Chastain (Annabel and Lady Lucille respectively) who has performed characters of contrasting natures. To put it simply, one is haunted, the other is the haunter (of a serial-killer nature). Lady Lucille does not remind me of moths (as symbolized in the movie) but a meticulous ant. I admit I get this from the scene where she emphasize upon insects eating butterflies, but in the long run, it works well on her character. In that sense, she is rampant with life, standing with porcelain teapots in her antlers to remove whatever must be removed to make way for food and home. To echo the gory sense of the movie, she is eating/collecting the brides to make way for the harsh seasons that have become a familiar situation in the Crimson peak house. However, it does make me wonder if this metaphorical cannibalistic instinct and the occurrence of moths in the movie is yet another tribute–amongst many other tributes to the horror classics–to Silence of the Lambs (1991)? Nonetheless, the Sharpe hunt does not have vigor, at least not outside the house. For Thomas Sharpe, it is a means of sustenance and nothing else. For lady Lucille, ‘it is not sad’ it is the way of seasons and nature. However, within the first few scenes, like ghosts hostile of the new property owners, her reluctance of bringing a new member in the house is all over her face.

The idea of decay, prominent to Yankee Gothic such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of Seven Gables (1851) is completely embodied by Lucille. In that sense, she was already a ghost, ghastlier than the actual ones. A foreground that is ensuring the decay which spurts out in every shape and furrow of the hundred year old mansion. Her brother, which is deemed as a ‘parasite’ from the very first utterance of his name sucks at the imagery of decayed living, again. Like Hepzibah and Clifford, the siblings are institutionalized into decay as they are trying to recreate a home which is best only when deranged. This adds a modernist, psychoanalytic touch to the other wise old era. The characters are psychologically deranged because of the prevalent violence that they had grown up with. Therefore, Lucille is both Red or Black as highlighted from the choice of her costume. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to put Thomas Sharpe in the same box.

Many critics mention that Thomas Sharpe is a man who fills in the role of a weak Gothic hero (over brooding ones such as  Bronte’s Rochester) amidst the ongoing female drama. However, Del Toro came out an explained his character as a paradox, a mixture of polarities. On one hand he is not able to look away from the decay of his house and on the other, he is interested in the future and the industrial age. Similarly, Edith, however brave she might seem (as Mary Shelly and not Jane Austen), she is inclined towards ghost stories. Not only this, the very art in the posters (as in the picture above) is invested with Edith’s fire like hair and the cold silhouette of the Crimson Peak mansion. Polarities are very important and integral to the genre of Gothic for they bring out the ambiguity, without which the genre is in complete.

One of the other elements of Gothic that this movie thrives one is that Sublime.The art of this movie is based upon attending to the aesthetic need of the audience towards reaching the feeling awe and terror. However, this is where the movie badly fails. As Romantics have said, this feeling is generated through mind. Mind needs intellectual expansion into mystics or spirituality in order to reach that Ghost dimension which otherwise fall flats. In my opinion, James Wan’s Insidious (2010) came very close to this sense. It first fills you with distant theories and then dramatize them in an unexpected manner in addition to the usual tricks and jump scares. Crimson Peak is rather weak in this build up. It might have tried to prepare for a distant journey to Cumberland, but it never offers us any expectations.