#077 – Crimson Peak and Understanding Our Monsters

#077 – Crimson Peak and Understanding Our Monsters

On this episode of the Reel World Theology Podcast:

cp001Another special Halloween episode! This time we talk about a film marketed as a stereotypical horror film but what we get is something quite different. Our panel discusses if it really should fit into the horror genre or not. We also talk about the history Guillermo del Toro has with the fantastical and how it seems to influence this film. And, as we do most Halloween episodes, we talk about the very nature of the horror genre; specifically, we talk about how storytellers use all types of ghosts, zombies, vampires, and more, to show us things about humanity that we might not explore otherwise. This is a good one!


Download Episode 077 Here:
Reel World Theology #077 – Crimson Peak and Understanding Our Monsters
Reel World Theology on Stitcher
Reel World Theology on FeedBurner

This weeks’ panel included James Harleman and JR Forasteros.

James Harleman (@harlemanic)
www.cinemagogue.com (@cinemagogue)
YouTube Channel
The Book:
Cinemagogue: Reclaiming Entertainment and Navigating Narrative for the Myths and Mirrors they were Meant to Be

JR Forasteros (@jrforasteros)
The Storymen Podcast
Origami Elephants Podcast

Podcast Notes and Links:

[youtube url=”https://youtu.be/oquZifON8Eg”]

Crimson Peak at IMDB

Crimson Peak at Rotten Tomatoes

The Devil’s Backbone on IMDB

Crimson Peak Review at Reel World Theology

Crimson Peak Review at Christianity Today

Crimson Peak on the Don’t Split Up! Podcast

Crimson Peak Review: A Sumptuous Gothic Ghost Story at Birth.Movies.Death

Catalyst Sermon Series on Monsters

[youtube url=”https://youtu.be/PzzPxiP1JSg”]


Before I get into the gritty, I just want to say how awesome it was to hear you guys all chat about this. I especially loved the section where you’re talking about horror as it applies to the Church. Excellent stuff! This was definitely one of my favorite podcasts so far because of the rich discussion. 🙂



The only thing horrific about “Crimson Peak” is the script. Utterly cringe-inducing from Thomas’s extravagant romantic speech, to Edith’s on-the-nose exposition at every turn. I couldn’t believe the same man who wrote the wonderfully unique “Pan’s Labyrinth” wrote this. Though he also wrote “Pacific Rim” which was basically stuffing every bad movie cliche ever in one film. “Crimson Peak” is filled to the brim with cliche, awkwardness, and completely forgotten explanations.

An example of bad character development lies in the main character herself. Edith is introduced to us as a writer, a supposedly strong woman. However, she is later unveiled as a completely naive child who is remarkably un-surprised by all the terror she finds in this house, especially in the family she’s just come into. She just kind of takes whatever happens without really fighting it. This would have been fine if they established her from the beginning as a naive child, but that wasn’t the case. She was established as an intellectual with a strong mind. Thomas doesn’t really have to work for her affection at all, it’s just so unbelievable. Additionally, Edith’s writing ability is only relevant for about 5 minutes before it’s forgotten. JR hit on the bad writing a little bit with Edith’s line about her ghosts being metaphors. There was a lot of that kind of winking at the audience throughout.

I watched this film with four other women who love Gothic romance and still loved Del Toro even after “Pacific Rim.” We all really disliked this film. Del Toro gave up “Beauty and the Beast” for this and made it sound like it was his baby. After that kind of build up, we did expect something on the same level of “Pan’s.” The cast of this film alone was exciting! It was marketed as a Gothic romance and horror and I felt it failed at both, especially the Gothic romance part. Then the entire last part of the film, with all the stabbing and crazy Lady Lucille screaming like a banshee while chasing Edith around with a cleaver, was getting into the ridiculous slasher-film mentality.

This film SHOULD HAVE been amazing. The art direction and costumes were absolutely delicious, the cast superb, even the idea of the incestuous brother and sister bamboozling people and luring a girl to her doom is interesting enough to make a good film. But in the end, the visuals were the only redeeming factor. Even the actors- normally brilliant- were kind of awkward or over-the-top at times. This was a big disappointment after waiting over a year for this film. Like James mentioned about his wife, I had the same excitement and anticipation. I think Del Toro needs to go back to Spain and try making good movies again. :-/

Thanks Alexis! Oh wait, there’s more… I stop reading after statements like “This was definitely one of my favorite podcasts so far because of the rich discussion.” Ego, stroked, next comment, hehe.

I think I understand where our fundamental difference is. It is when you write a sentence like this: “…and still loved Del Toro even after “Pacific Rim.” When, from my perspective, it should have been written like this: “…and loved del Toro EVEN MORE after ‘Pacific Rim.'”

This goes to people liking different things from their genres. I give some things a pass for different genres. Del Toro wants to make a fantasy that JR points out may have just been us reading Edith’s book– well, I don’t need the script to contain amazing dialogue. I need it to be fantastical. This was. I don’t need ‘Pacific Rim’ to give me deep brooding insights into the male psyche, I need someone to perfectly bring giant robots vs giant monsters to the big screen– DONE!

I don’t think your criticisms are without merit. I simply believe del Toro is tapping into something wonderful and creative and mold-breaking and I don’t want him to stop.

Wow! That was a record-breaking reply time. 😉 I agree that we will all have different expectations and desires from genres. If Del Toro had not made “Pan’s Labyrinth” or had produced “The Orphanage,” I probably wouldn’t have given him a second thought. I guess I’m just sad his films are less on the level of those two and more on the level of the rest hehe. “Crimson Peak” sort of made it official that I’m not actually a Del Toro fan after all. :-/ Sad day.

Such a great podcast! I loved all the ideas and themes covered, a really meaty discussion! So good to hear from Mr. Harleman, who always has really insightful commentary on films. This podcast gave me some new perspectives on the film, and asked some really intriguing questions! I loved it! Unfortunately, I have to agree with the comment made by Alexis. Overall, I was very much disappointed in this film. I am a huge gothic romance nerd, so ever since I heard Del Toro was making one, I was super stoked. There really hasn’t been, what I would consider, an incredible, full blown gothic romance movie, and there still hasn’t, sadly. As you guys discussed, this film is difficult to place into a genre, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I felt ripped off. I would say that it had all the gorgeous trimmings of a gothic romance, but none of its substance. It had the spooky atmosphere as James Harleman put it, with resplendent costumes, dark metaphors (loved the scene with the ants eating the butterflies!), and lots of gorgeous ghastly sights. However, the heart, of what I would consider to be gothic romance was very much missing. The film is an empty shell. Mr. Harleman hit the nail right on the head when he said that true horror is the horror of ideas! So right on. And gothic romance or gothic horror, is dealing with the same thing! It isn’t monsters, ghosts, and supernatural events that are the true horrors, but the horrors of the human heart, and all the ideas that come from within. A gothic romance, then is supposed to terrorize you with all the lusts and deceits of the human soul. There is supposed to be a strong, foreboding sense of doom, an ugly, sickly, unearthly resonance that builds to the terrible climax! The heroine is supposed to be isolated, completely alone, at the mercy of her tormentor(s), trapped in a real life nightmare. As the story builds, terror threatening to overwhelm at ever turn, the climax happens and you are left with the feeling of NOT wanting to know, of NOT wanting to see! Anything but the truth would be preferable, but no, you must look upon it and witness it and experience it. It is the human heart fully unveiled and brought to the light, and it is horrible and wicked, and deeply, grotesquely tragic! True Gothic romance/horror, in short, is meant to break your heart!

This film produced none of these feelings. I never believed in Edith’s peril. She had ghosts on her side, whom she seemed pretty comfortable with, even though they were ghastly sights, and Thomas, though passive, was on her side as well. This movie played everything so safe! There was nothing horrible about it. No risk. No danger. The big reveal of incest was made to seem horrible, but I was just like meh, incest. Big deal. Lucille’s character was probably one of the main highlights, Chastain played her so well, but her portrayal was wasted because of no build up or set up that made you really *feel* the unnerving nature of her insanity and the threat she was to Edith. Edith was always protected no matter what. And probably the main reason being the weakness of Thomas’ character. Such a waste of Hiddleston’s talent! He has the emotional depth and capacity to play a truly dastardly and tragic Byronic hero, but he was insipid and definitely a thirteen year old girl’s fantasy man! He needed to be stronger, he needed to hurt Edith more, be more of a threat! In that scene where he lays into Edith for her book, I wish that had been his true feelings! But no, you know the whole time that he doesn’t mean it and is only doing it because her father forced his hand, so once again, no danger, nothing to be worried about. Nothing that a romantic letter can’t solve! I wanted to see a Thomas Sharpe who was fully, one hundred percent manipulating and seducing Edith, who was selfish, only caring about his machine, a kind of man who would be part of a plot to leech off young women for their money and then kill them! But instead we get a doe-eyed dreamer who is being manipulated himself. And the film didn’t even go into that, the co-dependency and self-hatred/self-love of his incest with Lucille! There was so much darkness and complexity Del Toro could have unearthed with such a relationship, but again, he played it safe. Now, I have no qualms about Thomas Sharpe being redeemed in the end, but Edith should have been made to work much harder at that, and the process to his redemption should have been more of a struggle, so that when he *did* choose to go against his sister, his inevitable death would have been truly tragic! After such a long, hard road he was saved, but little too late!

There is so much that I could pick apart and criticize about this film, but that is the main thing, the lack of anything truly horrific within it. Actually, the only parts I felt achieved these aspects and ideas were the scene of her father’s death and then Edith having to identify his body. The first scene was appropriately grotesque, and the latter scene appropriately tragic. Other than that, though, I couldn’t take anything seriously. Most especially the end, where it turns into a knife chasing/stabbing extravaganza.

Now, one of the things I didn’t even think about that James Harleman mentioned, was the sexuality in this film. I am not very familiar with horror films (my taste ranging more in line with gothic romance novels), but that was interesting about the conservative ideas about sexuality! That the virgin is the one who lives. And how Crimson Peak switched that on its head, where it was the “loss” of virginity within the sacred confines of marriage that saves Thomas ultimately. I really loved that concept, and I didn’t think of it that way! I was actually annoyed because I thought it was just an excuse for fangirls to get a *look* at Hiddleston, but now I see the sexuality in a different light. It is a more of a redemptive and purifying, where the consummation of marriage is what saves Thomas! Very cool. Then, speaking of sexuality, I also thought it was a very interesting question put forth about the incest. Asking, why was the incest so repulsive to most audiences? Why were they freaked out about it? Especially now with this whole sexual “revolution” of our culture, where things are being redefined. What, in light of that, is so bad, then, about incest? I think *that* would be a really interesting discussion to have with a group!

Oh, and before I end my very long comment, I do have a question! I disagree with Harleman’s assessment that this film has female empowerment. With what Alexis Johnson outlined, I don’t really see Edith Cushing’s character as strong, but why (this question is for everyone) in order for the female character to be empowered, do the male characters need to be weak, passive dunces? I thought the weakness of the male characters truly hindered this film rather than helped it. Just my two cents! 😉

Anyway, excellent podcast! I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the film and why I was so disappointed in it, and that ultimately, I find myself disillusioned with Del Toro’s work, but I enjoyed listening to all your thoughts on the film. It is good for Christians to delve into the darker genres because there is so much there that could be gleaned about human nature and redemptive history! Keep up the good work, guys!

A few quick thoughts…

1. Thanks for your comment 😉

2. I think there was horror in this film, but, as James mentioned, we are so far removed from what used to be horror to us (incest, for example), that it doesn’t shock us anymore. At best, I think someone could argue that this is a film “out of time.” I don’t agree with most of your critiques of the ‘horror’ in this film outside of that– but that’s OK! That is what discussion is for.

3. I also did not have a problem with what I think you are referring to as “no pay off” to the build up. I actually really liked that every time you KNEW something was going to jump-scare or come back to haunt, del Toro kept following his own rules. The only person who saw the fantastical was Edith. Kudos to del Toro understanding his story better than his audience. I would have given in at some point if it was me. And I would have been wrong.

4. I also don’t think the males were unnecessarily weak. I thought Dr. McMichael was a very strong and determined character. He was polite– which I don’t think we should confuse with weak. The fact that he was proactive and still unable to save the day is where I would agree with James. Thomas was “weak,” but I think it was necessary to show how submissive he was to Lucille’s will.

Anyway. I mostly want to commend your interest in the conversation at all. I think we are often most passionate about the things we are most disappointed in. I can tell you had high hopes! I wish you would have liked it more. Del Toro is becoming one of my favorites!

Hello Mikey!
You’re welcome! 🙂

I would definitely agree that in a lot of ways this film is “out of time,” but I think that even if we are rather desensitized now a days that there are ways to make things profound and horrible just by psychological tension built through imagery, what is shown or not shown, etc. I’m a firm believer in showing less is more, and using tactics like jump scares and overwrought visuals (when doing horror) doesn’t really compare to what our imagination can conjure up. I think we should use horrific and graphic moments very sparingly, like the scene where Lucille kills Edith’s father. I think that should have been one of the main grotesque moments of this film, and the gravity of it would have been even more felt because of it. So moments like in the beginning where Edith’s Mom comes back to warn her should have been toned *way* down, leaving us feeling chilled and uneasy instead, rather than just *seeing it* all laid out. It doesn’t do anything to have everything spelled out for us. So, for me it isn’t necessarily a criticism that Del Toro followed his own rules, that’s fine, but more like I don’t think he truly understood his material, which is probably a bold thing to say considering Del Toro is all about horror. It’s his thing, haha, but perhaps I just disagree with his definition! At least in the case of this film. I think another major factor was that if he didn’t try to sell it (at the beginning) as a gothic romance, I probably wouldn’t have been *as* disappointed.

I would agree that Thomas was necessarily weak because of that relationship with Lucille, that’s what the movie was going for. (I was just disappointed that *that* was Hiddleston’s role! I was wanting it to be different! Alas!) And I agree that Dr. McMichael was determined and polite, (I would not say politeness is weakness), but if you remove McMichael from the picture it doesn’t really do anything for the story except provide a solace for Edith in the end (and perhaps a marriage!), which I don’t have a problem with exactly, but I would have wanted him to play a more significant role in the story. Especially with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reference in the beginning. I thought he was going to be using his smarts and deductive reasoning to try and save Edith, but it didn’t really pan out that way, haha. I don’t think he had to save the day, though, but I think he could have been much more useful to Edith instead of just chasing after her (without a horse or any means of quick escape!) and getting stabbed. Haha. In either case, the criticism I have is more the idea brought up by James Harleman about this being a female empowerment film and that it was female empowerment precisely because the male characters played weaker roles. I don’t think that is what make a female empowerment piece, and I actually even question the concept of female empowerment in general, but that is for a whole other discussion entirely. 😉

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