When we first see Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), our films heroine, she’s alone gazing at her blood stained hand, its crimson cast against falling snow. Her ashen gown is juxtaposed with her ghostly complexion, the scarlet laden wound across her cheek emphatic. There’s a look in her eye that warns of the events that will unfold, though there’s a yearning that rests on her hand, an instrument that remains unyielding in its faculty. It’s in her eyes, agape with wonder and speculation, that she bears witness to her ivory extremities for the first time. When we hear Edith speak, it’s a voice that comes from within, one that resonates throughout with command, though it expresses what we already believe. Her power comes from her instrument, bloodied and strong yet beautifully empowering.
Crimson Peak is a place that, like the film itself, is living and breathing, harboring both grandeur and decay with a magnificent wash of colors. What makes our film radiate with such magnificence isn’t beholding what is born from the delicate snow of our doomed manor, but how it’s conceived. We begin at the end of the film, not to show us what we already know, but to show us for the first time one of cinemas most liberated and expressively powerful characters to ever grace the screen, born out of the darkest depths of Guillermo Del Toro’s masterwork.
Early in our film, a young Edith is confronted by the ghost of her recently deceased mother, a victim of black cholera. Shadows piercing the bedroom, her mother’s spirit gliding wistfully towards her, Edith cowers frightfully in her bed. A blackened, shriveled hand places its long fingers over her shoulder as she screams upright, the apparition disappearing into the night. It’s a repeated gesture that’s demonstrated by her father (Jim Beaver) at her mother’s funeral, one that symbolizes comfort and nurture. Years later, her father would extend the same gesture towards Edith in an act of protection towards Baronet Thomas Sharp (Tom Hiddleston), a duplicitous man who penetrates England’s soil in an attempt at extracting clay the color of crimson.
It’s this slight paternal gesture that sets her apart from who she desperately yearns to become. She eventually hides her femininity behind a typewriter, as her penmanship exposes her demureness in a male dominated system. When Thomas is first introduced to Edith, she rests concealed behind a typewriter, her strength and feminine decree masked by a pre-constructed autonomy. It’s these examples of male dominance and self-inflicted acts of disguise that cast her away from who she really is, and ultimately away from where she was born.
When her father is violently murdered, Edith marries and accompanies Thomas to Cumberland, England where they reside with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in a dilapidated mansion on the outskirt of town, known as Crimson Peak. Snow falls through a naked patch in the ceiling, the structure deteriorating as thick shades of vermillion ooze out of the ground from which Thomas scours. The mansion’s centerpiece is exposed, vast and uncommonly cold, evoking a sense of belittlement. Twisting dark corridors lead to rooms that evoke feelings of isolation. Deep below the surface lays an infernal cavern that holds secrets to the Sharps’ deceitful methods. It’s a house that, as Thomas states, breathes. As Edith grows closer and closer to her husband, the house begins acting as a living entity, a caregiver into her subsequent birth as not only herself, but a strong, independent woman.
It isn’t until Lucille and Thomas secretly subsume poison into Edith’s tea, do we begin to see her re-birth. She wakes up in the middle of the night, blood staining her pillow and lips, her insides working against her. The ghost of a murdered woman begins haunting her with warning, guiding her towards infinite awareness. Crimson Peak realizes her deconstruction as a woman, often waking her with the wails of the east wind or the hushed cries of the Sharps’ murdered mother. The love that fills Edith for Thomas is a destructive love that begins to peel away her true nature, stripping her of both physical and emotional strength. Soon, we begin to see her like the exposed roof, and deteriorating floorboards of the main chamber; naked, belittled, and decomposing from within, the crimson fluid that fills her heart turning gray.
Using a pen her father gave her, one that she detestably protested would show her delicate hand, Edith stabs Lucille in a sheer act of feminine embrace. Running deep beneath the foundation of the mansion, we begin to see Edith champion herself, emanating courage, fearlessness, and strength all on her own. The stoned depths of Crimson Peak act as a womb for our survivor, a place of terror that takes on pristine meaning, as we witness Edith burst out of the cellar and into the blinding snow a new person. Under peril and amidst treacherous terrain, our newfangled heroine stands once again, left gazing at her blood clad instrument, a symbol of her new being that is without a mother, a father or a lover, yet is fully intact with herself.