Ghosts are real, that much I know

Ghosts are real, that much I know

 

Sometimes one can look at something old and see it as antiquated…past its day…irrelevant. Upon closer inspection though, such things can often hold many secrets…and these secrets can cast new light on old ideas.

Set in late 1800’s upstate New York, CRIMSON PEAK is the story of a bright and spirited young woman named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). Her mother died when she was still a child, and sporadically through the years, Edith is visited by her mothers ghost…always whispers the same warning: “Beware of Crimson Peak”.

As she reaches early adulthood, she has ambitions of becoming an author and is very much encouraged by her father Carter (Jim Beaver). As she goes about making her most ambitious professional leap – one that is encouraged by both her father and the his young doctor, Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). It’s right around then that a mysterious and well-to-do couple named Thomas and Lucille Sharp (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) arrive in-town looking for investors for their family business.

While they turn heads and cause a scene at every society gathering they attend, Thomas is unsuccessful in landing investment funds when Carter’s influence gets his proposal denied. During his visit to town, Thomas also takes a shining to young Edith, and seems to be the sort of educated and enlightened man she hopes to meet. However, after having The Sharp Family’s past investigated, Carter forbids Thomas from getting involved with his daughter. To make sure of it, he hands Thomas and Lucille the money they wanted.

Shortly thereafter though, Carter is found dead, and Thomas moves in to comfort a distraught Edith. He offers to marry her and take her back to their family estate, giving her support and security in a time where both are in short supply. However, upon arriving at Allerdale Hall, Edith soon realizes that there are many secrets hidden in the house’s many dark corners, and Lucille especially seems hellbent on keeping them hidden.

But some secrets don’t want to remain kept – the want to blow through the corridors at a high pitch, and seep through the floorboards like congealed blood.

 

Hiddleston and Wasikowska in CRIMSON PEAK

 

If CRIMSON PEAK feels like a story out of time, it’s because it is. The story is a gothic romance and to use an old cliché, they don’t really write stories like those anymore. Once upon a time stories like this were the order of the day. Back then, tales like REBECCA, JANE EYRE, and NOTORIOUS featured women pushing back not just against precarious and patriarchal relationships, but against whole houses themselves that seemed built to underscore the subjection expected of any woman who dare call them home. In certain ways these stories were ahead of their time, but in far more they were very much of their time, and those are times that are best left to history books nowadays.

So at a glance, CRIMSON PEAK might not seem like just a story out of time, but a story whose time has passed. However, to believe so is to overlook the way modern sensibilities are grafted into the framework of an ingenue, an edifice, a haunted past, and a twisted present.

For starters there is perhaps the most powerful metaphor in CRIMSON PEAK is the titular house itself.  It stands apart from the rest of the community; a symbol of affluence and legacy that is known for miles around. It has been built up like a family’s reputation and looms large over anyone who dare drift into its orbit. You can almost hear it say to all comers “Don’t you know who I am?”. However, like a company coasting on poor customer service or a family treading on its good name, the inside shows what happens when stature masks corruption. The house is rotten to the core. It is in deep disrepair and sinking into the very earth it stands on. There is a hole in its soul that allows in the bitter cold of the world outside.

The house is a warning against being lured by perception – be it status or faux humility. Like the very place he calls home Thomas Sharpe may seem like a modern-minded provider, but it’s all a ruse. Inside his heart is sinking into the depths…and his soul has a gaping hole in it. Sadly, he is not unique in these ways: neither the persona nor the hidden truth.

In the face of this, Edith seems determined to get to the truth. This is what gives both the story and Wasikowska’s performance its strength and its beating heart. She may be impressed by what Sharpe seems to be, but she is not blind to it. She continues to ask questions and rebel against being backed into a corner. She refuses to be a doting wife; one more lavish accessory adorning the walls of Crimson Peak. Wasikowska is not the sort of actress whose eyes bug out and screeches at the sight of a spectre. Instead, she is the sort holding out her hand and saying “tell me what you need”.

While details like these – and the film’s lush visuals – are splendid, the core question of CRIMSON PEAK is whether a film can stand on its own two feet when it is so clearly descended from other films. When dusting off a genre that has long since been neglected on the highest and furthest shelves, is it fair to expect audiences to catch the tropes? How can they possibly know the words to a song that hasn’t been sung aloud in generations?

Perhaps the point is to point audiences towards those higher shelves. Perhaps the intent is to not only spur new explorations of a long-lost genre but to consider its place in a modern society. It wants us to think a little bit longer and harder about these strangers in splendid clothes, spouting clever words in front of impressive holdings. It wants us to consider the secrets that may well be hiding inside their rotting walls, dusty attics, and damp basements.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★  out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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