Some people loved Guillermo del Toro’s gothic confection Crimson Peak. Some people found it disappointing. But the overall consensus seems to be that Crimson Peak not only wasn’t scary, but didn’t have a twisty enough storyline. But maybe everybody missed the huge twist at the end of the film?
Huge spoilers ahead...
The basic plot of Crimson Peak is, indeed, very simple. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) marries Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and goes to live in his decaying family mansion in bleakest blighty, a place where even the ground bleeds. But soon Edith realizes she’s made a mistake. Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) have murdered all of Thomas’ previous wives, and she’s next. The plot is basically Edith surviving, along with Thomas having a slight change of heart.
The big innovation in Crimson Peak, other than its insane visuals, is how it uses the supernatural. The movie is full of ghosts, but they’re entirely benevolent—or at least, they’re entirely on Edith’s side. Edith, from childhood, has had the power to see ghosts, including her own dead mother, and when she gets to Allerdale Hall, she’s able to see all of the ghosts in the house, including Thomas and Lucille’s mother, but also all of their victims.
It’s Edith’s unique ability to see ghosts that saves her from being Lucille’s next victim. If it wasn’t for the ghosts warning her and pointing her to clues, she’d be doomed. That’s the premise of the movie: Ghosts can save your life.
That’s not the twist I’m talking about, though. The twist I’m referring to comes at the very end of the film. Lucille is fighting Edith in the snow outside Allerdale Hall... and then Lucille sees the ghost of her dead brother Thomas.
This is the first time anybody other than Edith has seen a ghost in the film. It’s also the moment that Lucille is doomed—just as she’s confronted with the fact that she’s killed her brother/lover. The fact that Lucille is suddenly able to see a ghost, for what appears to be the first time, proves that something has changed for her, and that she’s now open to something that she wasn’t open to before. Probably, this is the first ghost in the house that Lucille has actually had regrets about.
Part of why I like that ending, and why I think of it as a twist, is that it’s open to a number of interpretations. Either the spirit world is finally claiming Lucille, after having schemed against her throughout the entire movie, or Lucille is finally open to the terrible apparitions that she’s been ignoring her whole life until now. Or Lucille is only able to see her brother because he’s her brother, and she actually feels something about his death.
This isn’t quite a twist on the level of “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time,” but it is a change at the end of the film that turns everything sideways. Lucille and Edith, at the very end of the movie, finally have something in common. And seeing a ghost is the prelude to Lucille herself becoming one.
As Tasha Robinson wrote in io9 last week, the theme of Crimson Peak, as with other Guillermo del Toro films, is escaping from the past. In the case of Thomas and Lucille, they’re trapped with this terrible old house that’s the literal embodiment of history and its claims on them. Their schemes to keep marrying and killing young women are a desperate attempt to move forward in spite of all the dead weight they’re tied to, so that Thomas can build his amazing new machine. Edith survives because she has a greater sensitivity to the past (in spite of coming from America, the land of Newness) than Thomas and Lucille do.
When Lucille finally sees a ghost, it’s like a piece of the past she can’t simply dismiss (as she does her dead mother). It’s the ultimate ironic punishment, and a brilliant comeuppance. But it’s also a powerful moment, because it’s a sudden change in the way things have worked in the movie up to now. Crimson Peak doesn’t have a big secret or a clever reveal at its heart—instead, it has something darker and maybe even more fascinating.
Thanks to Aaron and Tasha for the feedback!