Beware of Crimson Peak…’s Flaws and Ruffles

Are you a moth? Or a butterfly?

Autumn is upon us and Halloween approaches! Naturally, what else could Cole & Clarice do for Impolite Conversation this time of year but Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak?

Neither of us particularly enjoys this movie as a whole. But goddammit if we don’t have a shitload of fun drinking wine and munching popcorn while we shout our annoyances and commentary at the screen. So maybe we do enjoy it. … But on a masochistic level. That happens with us.

So welcome to one of our new favorite seasonal films! We have feels and rants in store for you so let’s get started!

 

Whadaya mean this was never Oscar-nominated for Costuming or Production Design???

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Cole: Okay. So I have a myriad number of issues with this film as a whole. But the visuals, the cinematography, the costuming are not among them. Despite its many faults, this film is fucking GORGEOUS.

Clarice: The visuals in this movie are indeed stunning. I specifically find the color choices in play very interesting. It leads with so many arresting golds and greens… Many of which Mia Wasikowska’s Edith herself wears, thus often blending her into her environments. But the visual sense is also en pointe in scenes like the funeral with its stark black and white contrast… Or even the film’s retreating shots of clay-and-blood spattered snow at the end.

Cole: Red does seep in at specific moments, peppering the greens, blues and golds, like with the clay on Crimson Peak, in Lucille’s dress when you first meet her and the color of the ghosts and the dog’s ball. It makes for a very striking color palette.

Clarice: Discordant. In a kind of beautiful way.

Cole: Exactly. Speaking of Lucille’s dress and the word discordant, shall we do a shout out for this film’s costuming department?

Clarice: The Crimson Peak Costuming Department I both love and hate. The costumes are truly remarkable… but! I also think they get truly ridiculous at times. And I mean that beyond the many many ruffles and poofy sleeves (so many poofy sleeves!); I mean that the strong color palette ‘backfires’ somewhat in regards to the costumes. I.e. the extent to which they morally and narratively assignate characters (specifically the two women) based on the colors of their costuming becomes more than a bit ludicrous. Or, as I believe is summed up on our notepad: “I am brunette and wear red, and you wear ivory and pearls.” Though all costuming art should visually connect and allude to character, I think this movie tips into being hilariously heavy-handed with it. Think how often Edith is in those golds, ivory and dishwater colors (virginal!) vs. Lucille who wears the above-mentioned red and, after that, all the thick blues and blacks (bruised!). And then, of course, very notably after Edith and Thomas have sex, suddenly blue appears for her too.

Cole: Oh, the messages they’re sending with the colors are most certainly a bit too on the nose (especially (as you’ve mentioned) Edith suddenly dressed in blue and white after having sex with Thomas). But the over the top sleeves? And ridiculous bows? Not gonna lie, I love how over-the-top dramatic they went with that part of the costuming!

Clarice: Well GDT’s failings were never his eye for dramatic fantasy… He’s always had one of those.  

Cole: Indeed he does! And we delightedly shouted “Poofy sleeves!” at the screen a fair few times if recollection serves. It’s dramatic and ridiculous and utterly impractical and, on a visual level, I kind of love it.

 

“The horror was for love.” … Yeah, but did it have to be?

Crimson PeakClarice: Should I warn everyone now that I have mildly ranty feels on this one, and this section will mostly just be those?

Cole: Yeah, that might not be the worst idea? Siiiiiigh. They come so damn close on this. Just a few small changes and little shifts and it could have been interesting. As it is? Eh.  

Clarice: Shortly put? They ‘romantic tragic hero’ Thomas’ character too hard. And I think it ruins/undercuts much of the tragedy that could have been.   

Cole: It really does. Would be so much more interesting if they had found a different way to frame his character. But I don’t want to get in the way of your ranty feels!

Clarice: Ahem… So I really really hackle at how directly it’s posited that Edith is just the super specialest one who makes him finally fall in love and inspires him to stop seducing and poisoning women. That’s… not sexy to me. And I don’t find it particularly tragic either. I think it’s much sadder if Thomas had just been straight up lost. The concept of doomed souls I find appealing. And Thomas and Lucille were exactly that — they were cursed to be unhealthy, unhappy adults. They were never going to be anything but doomed. I wish the story had pivoted slightly — away from ‘romance,’ and more into Thomas simply being exhausted by this routine of finding women, marrying women, stealing their money and murdering them all to no avail while his & his sister’s dreary childhood house continues to hopelessly sink into the red earth. And hell, I can accept that he and Edith bond to some degree! But not the kind of love the film tries for. That moment she touches his ghost face at the end is almost what I wanted — empathy and pity for the tragedy of a human being who was so fucked over from the beginning that they never really stood a chance of being happy or healthy. That was almost there. It simmers on the edges of the moment. But too much by the end was framed and tinged by traditionally romantic underpinnings that it ruins it for me. Is the broader tragedy of a damaged person not enough? It must pass through a “brooding Bronte romance” filter as well? Why? Because that makes the easiest shorthand for empathy? Yeahh… I don’t like that.

Cole: I think it’s unfortunate they go down the singular path of love conquering the cursed cycle of Crimson Peak. It does not redeem Thomas at all (not that anything could). He’s still the man who quite willingly murdered three women for their money. I wish the film had been willing to embrace a more complex and layered narrative. As you said: him being tired of this unhealthy, horrible life he and his sister lead trapped in this crumbling estate. That, merged with him bonding with Edith, or even falling in love with her in some twisted and warped manner tinged by past actions and exhaustion, would have been a fascinating story to watch unfold. Unfortunately, that complexity is just not there.

Clarice: No, I don’t think it quite is. Oh — and? Thomas should have been the one that killed her father, PS. Otherwise, it makes it far too simple to absolve his lady-seducing-and-murdering actions up until that point. It’s emotionally easier (arguably lazier) to give that deed to Lucille, and I feel like it ultimately cheapens the trauma.

Cole: Agreed! The movie is trying so hard by that point to push Thomas into the tragic romantic figure. As we both said above, I wish they had let in be more complex and messy.

 

Blondes are good. Brunettes be cray. (aka Jessica Chastain!)

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Cole: Jessica Chastain is on fucking fire in this film. She’s making some seriously lacking material work in fanbloodytastic ways. I always knew she was a good actress but seeing her in this film, tearing into the material with such commitment and determination and making it sing with far greater success than anyone else in the cast really emphasizes the full extent of her skills. 

Clarice: Oh Jessica Chastain is total MVP. She’s great, and transfixing to watch all the way through, but by the time we click into the incesty reveal (which was a surprise to no one), and she’s snipping Edith’s hair for her collection, and goes all stabby-stab on Thomas… I admit I’m kinda just rooting for the insane lady.

Cole: She walks that line of mysterious and odd up through creepy and into outright bugnuts incredibly well. It makes her the most interesting character and compelling performer in the film. Next to her everyone else is just…kinda…bland as fuck?

Clarice: Well, I generally find Mia Wasikowska bland on film as it is. And it certainly doesn’t help that Edith is practically crafted to be a blank slate (see section 1 re: fading into backgrounds). But I do wish we’d gotten more of Hiddleston in particular being able to play off of Chastain’s loopybatsness more. Because when it’s the two of them, shit on screen is more interesting. I think aside from her own magnetism, Chastain also brought out more dynamism from her costars.

Cole: Agreed. She brings out the best in everyone else. Even though Edith is meant to be the main character my memory records Jessica Chastain’s Lucille as the one the film weirdly revolves around (even though the plot does not whatsoever). Does that make sense?

Clarice: It does. In fact, I believe the top of our notes does read “Team Jessica Chastain.”

Cole: Yup! Her character may be crazy and incestuous but she’s hands down the best part of the film!  

 

Our Note Quotes 

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So about half the time when we watch a film for an Impolite Conversations we sit down with a notepad (usually any time that we’re not in an actual theater) and jot notes and reminders down as the film unfolds. This helps us remember things we say or comment upon or (often) shout at the screen.

This time, instead of a traditional wrap-up section we decided to give you some insight into our note-taking process*. These are all exact things we scribbled down (followed by a couple context comments).

*Please note: wine is heavily involved in this process.  

 

“Poor Charlie Hunnam”

Clarice: Important question, Cole — which is worse?? His hair or his wonky accent?

Cole: They’re both fairly terrible but I would vote for neither. Nothing is worse than his doctoring.

Clarice: WHY DOES HE PULL OUT THE KNIFE FROM HIS ARMPIT???

Cole: So. Fucking. Stupid.  

 

“_____ → NOT A METAPHOR!”

Cole: We shouted this one a lot.

Clarice: We did. We had multiple things written down for this. Specifically… Moths vs. butterflies! Butterflies in glass! “Beautiful things are fragile”! And “Nothing gentle grows in this land”!  

Cole: JESSICA CHASTAIN IS THE MOTH. MIA WASIKOWSKA IS THE BUTTERFLY.

Clarice: Yes. Thank you, Cole.

 

“Electronic candles!”

Cole: Yeah that’s not how candles candle. It would totally have gone out.

Clarice: Umm… you don’t waltz that good, guys… 

 

“YOU’RE A WRITER!”

Cole: Oh man. We shouted this one a lot … as well…

Clarice: You see, Edith’s a writer (because of course she is)… who wears glasses (because she’s a writer)… Edith is also a horror writer. And yet horror writer Edith seems extraordinarily unconcerned by all the disconcerting things she encounters that really should be triggering any writer’s imagination alarms. I mean… C’mon! You walk into this house (where no one but your new husband and his weird sister live)… Dead bugs are everywhere… Clay that looks like blood oozes from the floors and walls… There is an actual giant hole in roof… A creepy portrait of a creepy mother… And you are explicitly and menacingly told ‘don’t go here.’ I think at least a few of those should probably be warning signs.

Cole: She’s clearly a terrible writer…

 

“the wild papillons that roam the moors of Cumberland…”

Cole: I think this might be my favorite note we made. Agreed?

Clarice: Ahaha. Agreed. Edith’s reaction to the appearance of this random lapdog is the funniest damn thing to me. She basically acts like finding lost lapdogs is commonplace on creepy and desolate clay moors.  

 

“WHY THE LEAVES???” and “WHY HOLE NO TREES???”  

Cole: THERE ARE NO TREES BY THE FUCKING HOUSE. WHERE ARE THE LEAVES COMING FROM?! PLUS IT’S WINTER. THE LEAVES WOULD HAVE ALREADY FALLEN EVEN IF THERE WERE TREES.

Clarice: ARE THEY GHOST LEAVES??? BUT WHY WOULD THERE EVEN BE GHOST LEAVES IF THERE ARE NO TREES?? WERE THERE TREES?? ARE THERE GHOST TREES WE JUST DIDN’T SEE?? 

Cole: BEWARE THE GHOST LEAVES OF CRIMSON PEAK!

*Hanna appears from the ether*

Hanna: OF ALL THE NONSENSE IN THIS NONSENSICAL WORLD, THE TERRIBLE LEAF PHYSICS WAS THE FINAL STRAW FOR ME!

*Hanna vanishes once more*

“Have you ever tried getting a key off a key ring?? → GDT has no idea how people work.”

Clarice: Yeah sooo apparently I found the fact that they were so easily slipping that damn key on and off its ring somehow emblematic of Guillermo del Toro’s often flawed understanding of how people operate. … I blame the wine.

 

“Hair is greasy but handsome curly!” and “So poised and Heathcliff.” and “Romantic Figure Poof!!!”  

Cole: Uuuuummmmm….

Clarice: … … Yeahhh… I’m not entirely sure at this point. Wine?

Cole: I’m pretty sure it’s related to Tom Hiddleston. But yeah. Wine.

 

How do you like my workshop, Edith?”  

Clarice: IT’S CREEPY AS FUCK!!

 

“THAT’S NOT HOW VAGINAS WORK!”

*presented without comment*

 

“E.S. = Evidence Stash → WHY IS IT ALL LABELED???”

Cole: Seriously thought. WHY THE HELL would you keep that around?! In conveniently labelled envelopes?!

Clarice: The fact that the trunk exists is bad enough. But the special, matching, meticulously labeled envelopes kill me. Names! Location! Dates! Why??? Hahaha. Thomas and Lucille are the worst pair of serial fraudster murderers! 

 

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