I do not watch horror. Ok, I watch The Walking Dead but that doesn’t count. When my friend asked if I wanted to see Crimson Peak, I was only persuaded by the descriptions “in the tradition of gothic romance” and, naturally, “feminist.”
I’m so glad I went because the movie was amazing! Let’s break it down below:
Not offensive to women = 1 pt
Depends on how you feel about about Victorian-era morals, murdered women, and female sociopaths. To me, there were enough depictions of women that no character felt like a trope. I did not find any portrayals offensive.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Mia Wasikowska portrays aspiring author Edith, who is sharp and funny and sad and scared by turns. When she leaves the familiarity of her New York life after getting married, Edith loses her cool while she processes all the murder-y developments going on around her. However, she’s able to rise to the occasion when it matters (whilst wearing the world’s least comfortable nightgown).
Jessica Chastain plays Edith’s sister-in-law Lucille. Holy Hannah did she do a great job. Lucille and her brother Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) play sinister siblings with a secret to hide, but it’s Chastain who sells it. Do not get on her bad side.
Recommended: Read about Jessica Chastain in The Martian.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
Edith and Lucille trade veiled barbs more than once, so the movie does pass. It does not pass the Bechdel test for people of color.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Crimson Peak was BEAUTIFUL. I cannot stress that enough. If you know Guillermo del Toro, then you know what you’re getting into. The Gilded Era clothing was lovely, the crumbling mansion with snow falling in through the hole in the roof was stunning, the clay-stained ground was creepy. So much attention was paid to the details of the setting (del Toro has commented on this–he says he wanted to make a response to low-budget horror films a la Paranormal Activity) and it paid off in a really atmospheric final piece.
I will say that the plot was fairly standard. But I’ve never liked the gore-fest of your typical teenagers-lost-in-woods horror movie. For some reason, when placed against del Toro’s awesome setting, the gore was elevated into something else and I could not look away. (Okay, I looked away but then I looked right back).
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
I agree with both camps. Viewed through a feminist lens, the film has enough empowering moments for women to get full points in this section. Could it have been stronger in some areas? Sure, but the weak areas didn’t detract from my enjoyment as a feminist viewer.
Whether or not Edith truly saved herself might be a point of disagreement for some critics, but for me what matters is how the film respected its female characters. No violence was held back, no actresses had blood splattered strategically to emphasize their cleavage. The sex scene was directed for the female gaze and female sexuality was not apologized for. There was no romantic resolution for Edith.
One of my favorite themes was Edith as a physical character. She was 100% in tune with her body and del Toro showed that, not by putting her into a bikini (which would have been anachronistic to say the least ;)) but by beating the hell out of her. This well-born Victorian lady is emotionally and physically distressed until she reaches a breaking point–which, it turns out, doesn’t break her at all, but allows her to shake it off and take down the villain.
This movie gets: 15/15 points!
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