As a very big fan of Guillermo del Toro, it goes without saying I have been excited for his latest feature—Crimson Peak, the R-rated gothic romance out now—since the movie was announced. Really anything Guillermo puts his name on as a writer, director, or producer will spark my interest. And yet, Crimson Peak has always felt a little different: it’s not got big monsters and robots and it’s not based on a cult comic book; it’s not a small, fairy tale and doesn’t feature hideous vampires. Instead, Crimson Peak has turned out to be a big, hulking nod to literature from a truly bygone era. When I ran into a friend who had seen the movie long before most of the press did and I asked him what he thought of it, he paused and said to me, “It’s a gorgeous movie. I’m just not sure who it’s for.” But that’s the thing—Crimson Peak is for plenty of people, but especially cinephiles and women, which isn’t exactly the mass-appeal audience for which most films are made today.
Old movies, for the most part, never used to be about the twist or the ending—they were about the journey, the adventure. Of course there were a few surprise finales here and there, but for the most part, classic cinema was about what was right in front of you in that moment. Crimson Peak is the same way. Is it possible that we, as over saturated audiences, have become so obsessed with getting one step ahead of the thing that we’re watching that we’ve mostly stopped watching all together? (Yes. My opinion on that is a big, Allerdale Hall sized “yes.”)
Crimson impresses with its ability to take something very old and make it fairly new again. If I dust off the cobwebs in my brain and think all the way back to my film school education, I remember some of these similar shots featured in Crimson from, let’s say, Rebecca. I recognized the slight melodrama to the actors performances but I would argue del Toro allows them to teeter on the edge without crossing over into full-on Bette Davis territory (all hail Bette Davis, queen that she was). Guillermo got to be an old school filmmaker on this movie and he wore it very well. Everything from the sets to the costumes to the color schemes were symbolic and intentional—I like that. I mean this in the least condescending way possible, what he’s doing is called mise-en-scène, another fun vocabulary word from film school that, frankly, with modern filmmaking we just don’t see that much anymore. For anyone in the media who constantly bitches about how “movies aren’t what they used to be!” here’s an example of a movie that is in a great many ways, made exactly like they used to be, and yet, those same people have appeared to want to squash it at every turn.
I mention that it’s mostly a movie made like they used to make ’em, with one big exception: for as much as this is a movie for cinephiles, it’s also a movie for women. That’s not to say that dudes won’t like it too; on the contrary, I think a great many gentlemen will enjoy this film. But, as a genre fan myself, I can with my whole heart say that this was an instance where I as a woman felt like I was invited to the horror party instead of being treated like a boring old afterthought. And maybe that’s why the mostly male film critic “elite” have been so hard on Crimson; spoiler alert: it’s not for them. It’s a genre movie with a protagonist who reads and writes books, loves her father, and features no “T” while the “A” that’s included belongs to a dancing British gentleman who looks great in a suit.
In Crimson Peak, women are allowed to be smart and foolish, they’re allowed to love deeply and dangerously, and they make mistakes—but they don’t necessarily have to pay for them with their lives because of some predisposed morality clause that they didn’t sign up for in the first place. Women can be cruel, conniving, and violent but they can also be sensitive, scared, and strong. You know, like real people. Those attributes don’t always apply to one woman or the other, either. And you know, for a movie that I would argue really is made for women, it features some gnarly subject matter. Relationships that are truly twisted, kills that are violent, ghosts who are terrifying—finally, someone is paying attention to us. I make the argument all the time: women love genre; we read scary novels, watch dark television, and often buy the majority of tickets for horror movies. Please, Hollywood, keep it coming!
Crimson Peak is not a perfect movie but seriously, what is? (Well, OK, Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty close…) But it is something truly unique for right now and in an often predictable, superhero heavy summer and war drama-filled Oscar movie season, I am so happy that a movie like this exists. Because if I were still a younger lady, I would probably talk my parents into letting me see this movie. And when it was over, I would probably Google it and learn more about del Toro himself and also the gothic romances that came before on film and in literature. And that might start a rabbit hole for curious little girls (and boys!) and begin a deep dive into their cinema history.
So my advice to the movie goer looking for a chilly atmosphere, some creepy ghosts and a modern yet old-fashioned scare this Nerdoween is to watch Crimson Peak. But watch it for what it actually is instead of what it isn’t.
Featured Image Credit: Universal Pictures