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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Crimson Peak

Crimson Peak is one of those intelligent horror films that's more about mystery than violence. The reasons behind the disturbing events that unfold are more horrifying than the events themselves.

In Buffalo New York, 1901, an American heiress and aspiring writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is working on her novel which is a ghost story. Having been visited only once by the ghost of her deceased mother at ten years old, Edith's fascination with ghosts has grown throughout her life. She has a very close relationship with her father Carter (Jim Beaver) who is supportive of his daughter's literary dreams.

She soon meets Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). They have traveled from their home in Cumberland England in search of investors for Thomas’s potential clay mining business. The town finds the Sharps fascinating while Carter sees them as untrustworthy. Thomas’s positive critique of Edith’s novel brings the two of them together and an unspoken romance forms delicately between them.

Carters suspicion of the Sharps tensely culminates resulting in a violent tragedy that causes Edith to leave her home behind. She and Thomas marry and travel back to Cumberland to live in his and Lucille's ginormous childhood mansion. The mansion is elaborately fascinating but its Victorian construction is deteriorating and Edith's feelings of Xenization sends more ghosts her way.

By this point, you know Edith was brought to England for a reason. The mysteries of her new home continuously wrap her up in an emotional fog with no clear view insight. Crimson Peak has many themes but one theme I found cinematically intoxicating was it's the portrayal of Xenization. The Sharps are not as financially secure as they appear to be and their time in America makes them feel very out of place. Edith comes to begin her new life in England and she's now the one feeling like a stranger.

This emotional role reversal gives Crimson Peak a chilling turn of events forcing audiences to reevaluate what they believe the characters are capable of. The performances of Crimson Peak reinforce and illustrate my belief that horror is a remarkable genre for actors. If the characters aren't stereotyped and are given complex platforms, they can resonate with you in ways you would least expect.

Mia Wasikowska is a national champion at period pieces but she always finds a way to give her characters originality. She portrays Edith with such remarkable integrity. If something doesn't make sense to her, she won't ignore it the way stereotyped horror woman characters do. She studies it from the inside out. She's a very resourceful detective but she's never been in a position where she's had to be. Emotionally, she grows farther away from her world of comfort and must now adapt to the darkness that she has to call home.

Tom Hiddlestone’s performance is very complex. I found myself continuously changing my mind about him. One moment, you'll find yourself believing him to be good, the next moment he's suspicious and the next, he's bits of both. His life's been very limited as he and Lucille were constantly kept upstairs as children which made the two of them the only love they ever knew.

He's very loyal to his sister whom he loves deeply but I could sense he wasn't as ready as Lucille was to give up on the world. He sees how life's hardened her and feels very guilty that she's the strong one. She's the one that takes care of them both. In many ways, he's still a small child and he feels suffocated by her. In Edith, he finds someone with the same light in her heart that he keeps hidden and he slowly loses himself to her inner grace and beauty.

Jessica Chastain's performance is definitely one of her more under-appreciated roles. She's not as iconic as Celia in The Help or Maya in Zero Dark Thirty but she offers so much cinematic commitment to Lucille Sharp. She's so far detached from the world that drove her to insanity. Many people I spoke with found her evil. I did not. She is a very very flawed human being. She continuously makes irréversible mistakes that affect those she comes across. If you have an open mind, you just might be able to understand why it's not all her fault. She has a very independent nature. She sees obstacles and she takes it upon herself to eliminate them.

The love she has for her brother has become unhealthy and unnatural but it is inarguably sincere. She loves what makes him different from her. She loves his innocence and she loves his sensitivity. She understands that her hardships have been his hardships too and as the older sister, pressures herself to successfully hold everything together. In Edith, she sees a threat. Perhaps this is because she sees how she's like her brother. She also underestimates Edith to a very high extent. Edith starts looking for answers and Lucille's morals continue to decline as Edith gets closer to discovering the truth of what Lucille has been hiding.

How Crimson Peak didn't win the Oscar for production design is something I'll never understand. The Sharp mansion was hand-built and designed with the brightest vision eyes can produce. The costumes beamed of elegance. They fit perfectly into Crimson Peak’s Victorian setting.

Overall, Crimson Peak is a deliciously intense gothic Victorian ghost story that's simply impossible to turn away from. The sizzling atmosphere of the film has just enough spice to burn your tongue but not enough so that you won't finish the meal.

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