Crimson Peak isn't just about screams – it's about sexual freedom

Oct 14, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: Universal Pictures

Guillermo del Toro is known for directing films with thrills and chills, but with his latest film Crimson Peak, he's taking a risk by focusing on the romance. The question is, does it pay off?

Crimson Peak
Image: Universal Pictures

Crimson Peak's director, Guillermo del Toro, says, "This movie is my attempt to harken back to a classic, old-fashioned, grand Hollywood production in the Gothic romance genre." Romance, not horror? But it's Halloween!

Don't get del Toro wrong — there are enough creepy, ghastly ghosties in the film to satisfy hard-core horror fans, but it does explore a horror that many of us know all too well — the emotional horror of love.

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The story is set in the year 1901, when times were very different for women. Wealthy young ladies were expected to marry and have children, and that's about it. But Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is different. She's an aspiring novelist who writes ghost stories influenced by her connection to the supernatural world. After her own mother's death, she learns she's able to communicate with her mother's spirit, along with other spirits. But it's only her mother's ghost that has a warning: "Beware of Crimson Peak!"

Before long, con man Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) has romanced the young and naive Edith, working his way into her life and bank account. But Sir Thomas has a secret. Yes, Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) is his sister, but they share a twisted bond that threatens Sir Thomas' marriage to Edith.

Crimson Peak
Image: Universal Pictures

In an unlikely love triangle, Edith, Sir Thomas and Lady Lucille take their love to monstrous heights, particularly after Edith arrives at Allerdale Hall, a centuries-old house that sits atop a sinking expanse of red clay.

What's different about this film is that it doesn't get stuck in the typical horror tropes, like punishing women for their sexual nature. In this film, Edith is free to make love to her husband and enjoy it.

Chastain recently told Time, "I love that Edith [Mia Wasikowska's character] can be this lead of the film and be pure and good and have sex, and that's okay. She doesn't need to be punished for being a sexualized person. It's great. You can be pure in one moment and be sexual in another — and that's really what a woman is. You're allowed to be both. Guillermo really shows that in this film."

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Crimson Peak
Image: Universal Pictures

Perhaps this is a modern twist on Gothic romance, post the sexual revolution. Punishing women for their sexuality is outdated, but suffering for true love isn't. We all have ghosts, and some are in the form of an old relationship that lives on in our minds, but not in real life. Those are the ghosts that haunt us the most, making Crimson Peak very relatable.

It's also really fun to see Charlie Hunnam play Dr. McMichael, a really kindhearted soul instead of the complicated biker dude we saw him play on Sons of Anarchy.

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Overall, this Gothic romance is closer to a dark fairy tale that appeals to any adult who's ever been in love with the wrong person.

Crimson Peak opens on Oct. 16.