Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crimson Peak: The Writer's Horror Movie


"Ghosts are real...this much I know."

So far, most of the top contenders on my list of Best 2015 Movies (So Far) are action movies. Among them: Kingsman: The Secret Service.

"Manners. Maketh. Man."

And Chappie.

"Indestructible Gangsta Number One, Son!"

And Age of Ultron.


And Fury Road.


And Ant-Man.

Trippy, even by Marvel standards. :)

And, of course, The Scorch Trials, which is still my favorite movie of the year.

I'm still waiting on the electric tazer rifle. XD

But now I've got a new Number Two on my 2015 best-list. It's the movie I just watched today - a lovely Gothic horror show from Guillermo Del Toro called Crimson Peak.

(PLEASE NOTE: In order to properly discuss this movie, I will have to severely spoil it - and, like most genre movies, this one utterly depends on not being spoiled. So if you haven't seen the movie yet - in which case, what is wrong with you? Remedy that grievous error of judgment at once! - leave now and don't come back until you've seen the movie in full. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.)

Let's start with a word on our heroine, Edith Cushing. Played magnificently (of course) by Mia Wasikowska (I still love pronouncing that name in Polish. "Vah-shee-kov-ska."), Edith is, like myself and a fair few Pinecones, a writer. Not an aspiring writer, but a writer. Inspired by the death of her mother when she was a girl, she's written herself a ghost story and is struggling to publish it. Her being a woman is a primary roadbloack interfering with her goal - people look at her and mockingly compare her to Jane Austen, and she retorts by saying she'd rather be Mary Shelley, who died a widow and not a spinster.

Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet who spends his time Hiddleston-ing with his world-famous cheekbones, smooth and cultured voice and accent, and oddly irresistible charm. Irresistible to everyone but Edith's father, that is. He wisely mistrusts Sharpe from the start because he himself is a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type, a self-made American industrialist, as opposed to a soft-handed aristocrat. So, when Sharpe comes along hoping to secure capital for his steampunk clay harvester, Daddy Cushing turns him down, citing the fact that his previous attempts to get funding (in several European cities) have all failed. It may have something to do with the fact that this movie is, temporally, technically post-steampunk, being set in the early 1900s when diesel and internal-combustion engines (observe the Model T prominently featured in one early scene) were becoming the next big thing. may have something to do with the sinister undercurrents flowing from Sharpe and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, whom you'll never see the same way again after this movie.) Mr. Cushing learns from a P.I. that there's something unsavory in the pasts of the Sharpes, and not long afterwards, he's violently bludgeoned to death in his own bathroom. Now completely orphaned, Edith marries Sharpe (who has spent his time in Buffalo, NY wooing her instead of the other rich girl he intended to attract) and comes with him as they return to Allerdale Hall, his ancestral home in northern England.

At Allerdale is where the movie, already one of the reddest ever made (hence why this post is written mostly in that color), morphs into the horror show we've all come for. This moldering old pile is a ghastly, Gothic mansion with decay detectable in every frame. Nothing about this place is up to code. There are holes in the ceiling, through which snow and assorted debris keep on falling. The ground is made with red clay that oozes through the rotted wood and wall tiles all over the house. Oh, and there are ghosts that keep popping up every so often.

This is when Agent Booth goes all, "Whoa, Bones!"

Edith actually saw the ghost of her mother not long after her death, and she warned her right then and there, "Beware of Crimson Peak!" Turns out, she was right - Crimson Peak, the not-so-secret nickname for Allerdale Hall (three guesses why) is haunted by the spirits of those who've died within its walls. Why have they died? Because of the Sharpes. In the end, Edith learns (from the ghosts, some wax cylinders, letters to Thomas Sharpe's previous, deceased wife, and from the horse's mouth - that is, that of Lucille) the secrets of this family. The siblings' parents were abusive (physically for the father, emotionally for the mother), and they themselves have been in an incestuous relationship. So, with little to no money of their own (their dear old dad having squandered the family fortune), Thomas has repeatedly married women from all over, and Lucille has killed them (and taken cuttings of their hair as creepy-ass trophies) as soon as they've signed over their estates to their new husband. Think Dragon Tattoo meets Game of Thrones. There's a reason why the first thing I said coming out of the theater is this: "In the real world, when you Jamie your Cersei, you turn into bloody serial killers!"

Now both stars of Mama have been doing the do
with their siblings in other roles. How about that?

Of course, this is when things get complicated. You see, there's still another man back home who loves Edith, and he races out to England to rescue her after learning how fracked-up the Sharpes are. (And that's before he learns they've been secretly poisoning her with deadly tea the whole time, making her look like she's got some kind of Victorian romance-novel Incurable Cough of Death.) And as for Sir Sharpe, well, he's kinda fallen in love with Edith too, and he won't let his wackadoodle sister have her way with her. Even at the cost of his cheekbones. (No, seriously, that's how he dies - a blade goes in right under his eye - and boy howdy, that one scene shocked the theater more than any other.)

That, my dear children, is how Guillermo Del Toro expertly blends Gothic horror with modern horror. The setting's right for the former, and it's updated enough to hold its own with the best of the latter. It's equal parts suspenseful storytelling (the true hallmark of Gothic terror - not horror, but terror; my Gothic Lit professor insists on having us all know the difference) and grisly grotesquerie.

One last reason why this is an A movie for me - special mention goes to the scene where, on orders from Mr. Cushing, Sharpe is deliberately doing his damnedest to break Edith's heart. How does he do that? By telling her she doesn't have one, or at least not a well-developed one because of her lack of real-life romantic experience, so what the hell business does she have incorporating a love story into her ghost story? Sure, she only did so because of pressure from Executive Meddling, but still. That part actually rang true with me more than any other aspect of Edith's writing career, for one simple reason. As a guy who's twenty-two years single, I have no romantic experience on which to draw while writing relationships for my characters. Somehow, though, I'm able to rise above that and deliver to my readers' satisfaction anyway, if the positive response (and occasional shipping wars) among the Pinecones is anything to go by. Or, as my friend suggested when I brought this up to her after the movie, maybe it's just something so universal, everyone has an instinct for it, and is capable of writing romance properly no matter what. Especially if, like Edith, our main romantic reference pool consists of other works of fiction.

In which case, I'll assume that there's hope yet for the future of my heart and soul. :)

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

No comments:

Post a Comment