Crimson Peak Deserved Better

Fans of Tom Hiddleston know him as Loki from the "Thor" movies and his titular television series, but how many people know about his role in the 2015 film "Crimson Peak"? The genre-bending movie features an outstanding cast led by award-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. It incorporates the bone-chilling yet whimsical horror of "Pan's Labyrinth" with the perverse yet sentimental romance of "The Shape of Water." These two del Toro films were incredibly well-received, but for some reason "Crimson Peak" was a box office flop and has since been continually overlooked.

In "Crimson Peak," Tom Hiddleston stars as Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet visiting the burgeoning city of Buffalo with his sinister sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). He is there to secure funding for a new invention that will dredge up the clay sitting under his property. He seeks the help of Mr. Cushing, a self-made man whose beautiful and spirited daughter Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is an aspiring writer working on her first manuscript. Edith's novel is a ghost story — or, as she would put it, "a story with a ghost in it." Edith was visited by the ghost of her mother as a child, who warns her about a place called Crimson Peak. When Thomas starts to take an interest in Edith, her father is wary of him and pays the Sharpes to leave town. The next morning, Thomas reveals what her father did, and Edith is whisked away to the very place her mother warned her never to go — Crimson Peak.

Thomas Sharpe is even more complicated than Loki

The multidimensional performance given by Tom Hiddleston was aided by del Toro's ingenious writing and direction. The director gave all the leading actors extensive backstories, along with secrets to keep from one another (via EW). Hiddleston believes that allowing the characters to have secrets from one another, and the audience, "keeps the work mysterious" and gives them an "interior life," per his interview with VPRO Cinema. The suggestion of a rich interior life makes Thomas a compelling romantic lead. He is running from a tortured past, which keeps the audience interested even when he seems like the clear villain.

No stranger to complicated characters, Hiddleston is known for his ability to play sympathetic antagonists. Thomas is not playful and mischievous like Loki, though. He is full of mystery but desperately wants to be sincere with Edith. He seems to really love her, possibly because Hiddleston had a bit of a crush on Wasikowska himself. Hiddleston describes her as looking "so beautiful" in the shot where the couple enters the ballroom, saying that she "radiates beauty" in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes. The actors danced in this scene while holding a candle and, according to Hiddleston, did so without extinguishing the flame, just like their characters. Thomas Sharpe calls this "the true test of the perfect waltz." The scene establishes the tension between Edith and Thomas and is intensely romantic. To think that this was replicated so closely by the actors in real life — swoon!

A major accomplishment in set design

The detailed set design and lighting of the film have the texture of a fantasy novel come to life. "Crimson Peak" is a mixture of del Toro's "kinky" Spanish style and childlike mainstream style, and the film's mise-en-scène had to replicate both of these layers. Every shadow is cast with intention, implying a ghost could pop out at any moment — and, for Edith, they have before.

Buffalo is full of people who work in "golds and tobaccos," so del Toro told the Los Angeles Times he wanted it to be imbued with a "beautiful, rich, noble type of color palette." It is honest and bright, like Edith. Thomas Sharpe is full of shadows, and he and his sister only confer when shrouded by darkness. This characteristic is embodied by their home, which is full of darkness and mysterious sounds. Crimson Peak is desolate, dilapidated, and cold, not to mention full of mysterious sounds. Most notably, it is sinking, and red waxy clay oozes from beneath the floorboards. This gives the house the appearance of someone attempting to conceal a fatal wound. Buffalo has conquered the elements, while Crimson Peak falls victim to them. While Buffalo thrives on top of a muddy ground by building on top of it, the Sharpe estate is sucked into the earth by continually dredging it up. Thomas' invention acts as the perfect metaphor for his character who, as Edith puts it, is "always looking into the past."

The ghosts are metaphors

The ghosts of "Crimson Peak" are, to say the least, visually inconsistent. Some of them border on scary, but their animated movements and CGI texture ultimately leave something to be desired. "Crimson Peak" came out in 2015, which was a major year for visual effects. Hugely popular franchises like "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park" got a new round of reboots using contemporary digital technology with "The Force Awakens" and "Jurassic World." Perhaps this is why the visual effects of "Crimson Peak" were received so negatively by critics like Collider. The rendered appearance of the ghosts also bears a stark contrast to the set, which was physically constructed in intricate detail.

Hiddleston points out that "'Crimson Peak' is ultimately a story about love," so maybe it's wrong to focus too much on elements of gore and horror. The true horror of "Crimson Peak" can be found in what passionate love drives people to do. "The ghosts are metaphors," Edith says of the ghosts in her novel. They are meant only to signify that the characters are haunted by the past and suggest the threat of evil to come. The themes of "Crimson Peak" go to dark extremes, and del Toro pushed for an "R" rating to explore them. This venture into more adult content with the budget of a major Hollywood studio results in a lustful and blood-soaked fantasy that has developed a cult following over the years since its release.