(As a quick note, after salivating for a few years over the thought of Guillermo del Doro directing Drood, I see little to no discussion from his side of the fence toward the development of the movie. This post is partially to continue my interest in the project and partially to try and garner a resurgence of hope for it).
I follow my favorite artists, as I’m sure everyone does. I listened to Smashing Pumpkins until they broke up (and never got back together again), I’m currently reading every single thing written by Dan Simmons, I dream of someday owning an original Beksinski, and I follow Guillermo del Toro’s everything. While half of the previously mentioned artists are no longer producing (Billy does not a Smashing Pumpkins band make), the other two are hard at work dominating the writing scene and big screen, respectively.
That being said, Crimson Peak snuck up on me. I checked on del Toro’s upcoming releases, saw the film adaptation of Dan Simmons’s masterwork Drood and a few other things, and set it aside to essentially pay bills by working my tail off. It came out, seemed like a sexy mashup of Poe, Lovecraft, and X-Men (Hiddleston is in it. No matter how many times I see his butt, I still see Magneto), and planned to see it in the theater.
This movie. This movie, in its entirety, is a dry run for Drood, and it thrills me to no end del Toro took the time to make it. Before I go too far into detail, I’ll sum the movie up as quick as I can without giving too much away: Heroine writer is picked by dashing Hiddleston to be the one in a somewhat rushed romance, but Heroine’s father isn’t convinced and decides to look into Hiddleston’s (and his creepy sister’s) past. Queue Fall of the House of Usher and The Color Out of Time mashup: powerful, gothic symbolism sewn together with a dull, supernatural needle and twine laced with twisted romance.
Pros: enchanting, morbid scenery: a derelict mansion resting on a mound of blood-red, liquefied clay that literally oozes out of the ground and fills the pipes of the house; walls of black moths and murals; leaves and snow fall from holes in rooms. “It’s the east wind. When it blows, it sucks at the chimneys. With all the windows closed up, the house, well, breathes.” Complex, developed characters with solid momentum. Just enough of the grotesque that the enthusiastic observer of horror isn’t terrorized by it. Just enough romance to show Hiddleston’s butt. Just enough intrigue to unfold a shallow mystery that doesn’t steal the show. And the supernatural element is added like spice. It isn’t the steak. It isn’t the deep fried eggplant. It isn’t even the bread with which to sop up the juice. It’s simply touched upon, tasted, and vitalizing.
Cons: This story needed to be three hours in telling. Unfortunately, you can’t make a movie like that unless it’s The Titanic or Gone with the Wind (Or any one of the three extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies). Given that, some of the dialogue was rushed, some of the interactions not given their fair share of screen time, and those lovingly twisted, deeply developed characters felt somewhat caricaturized by the speed of their exposition. Also, I could simply bathe in the scenery. The double meanings. The symbolism. In a lot of ways, this was a retelling. Especially with the Heroine’s comment, near the beginning of the movie, of, “I prefer to be like Mary Shelley, who died a widow.” This movie was truly an homage to true gothic literature, and came up short because of screen time requirements.
Also, I’d bet it was over the heads of a lot of people. The moths were literally eating the walls. This movie is art in its highest form, and I applaud del Toro for his dedicated effort.
Now getting back to the idea of this unrelated movie being a “Prequel” to the movie adaptation of Dan Simmons’s standalone novel. Follow me through the journey, if you will. Del Toro began his reign of successful movies with (in my opinion) Mimic, a xenomorphic horror/science fiction about cockroaches that evolved to look like people and then eat them. I’d place this work firmly in horror, with the overarching question of How long can we remain on top of the food chain? being pounded into our skulls. Next came Blade II, a comic book vampire movie. Then Pan’s Labyrinth, a sleeper hit that first caught my attention. It was brilliant, gruesome, beautiful, haunting. Much like Crimson Peak, but much more contained, staved, stunted. He often said it was too heavily produced by outside forces, too many hands involved in the making of it for him to tell the story he wanted to tell. In the “making of” on the DVD, he remarked he wished he could do it all over again.
Yet that movie wasn’t gothic. It was more a German fairytale woven into war. While it was grotesque and in some ways horrific and certainly frightening, it didn’t have any of the romantic aspects, the sublime symbolism of gothic work. Poe is gothic. Lovecraft is horror. Pan’s Labyrinth is much closer to Lovecraftian literature (or Gaiman literature) than anything of Poe’s.
Move forward in this writer/director/producer’s career, you see a bunch of seemingly unrelated movies: Hellboy and Hellboy II, superhero movies that still played on the enchanting aspects of magic, but not the blood-magic of the gothic; Pacific Rim, full of cybernetics, rock-em sock-em robots vs. alien monster godzillas; the three Hobbit movies all awash with CGI and hopeless pandering to money; along with a bunch of mixed teleplays and scripts for episodes of The Strain and games and cartoons and whatnot.
So. He’s written a lot in the horror, a lot in the superhero, a lot in the science fiction area of writing. It’s his bread-and-butter. Yet he’s never written true gothic, although his “to be developed” projects include At the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft and Frankenstein by none other than Shelley (I love when projects overlap. Like that time Johnny Depp said “savvy?” in Once Upon a Time in Mexico most likely as a slip-up from his parallel project Pirates of the Caribbean).
This movie has all the trappings of the Drood atmosphere. Powerfully developed characters, a narrator who sees things in the night, a Hiddleston-esque Dickens with his own Dark Passenger in Drood, an environment quite at home in the same Victorian atmosphere of the movie, and most of all, practice in the writing of gothic screenplay. A lot of the characters in Crimson Peak run with similar motivations in Drood, although the Heroine would have no place in Simmons’s novel. This movie needed about ten fewer jump scares–the environment itself was enough–and the supernatural element would be near parallel to Drood, as well.
It seems like practice, practice, practice. (Or, perhaps, the Drood project is scrapped in entirety and del Toro wanted to direct/produce/write something in the same vein, and instead of Drood we got Crimson Peak. Quite possible.)
If you love American Gothic, if you love Poe, or Shelley, or Hawthorne, or any of the other greats, if you love the idea of a story that incorporates aspects of the supernatural, of romance, and intrigue, and mystery, and horror (instead of a horror movie that incorporates aspects of a story), Crimson Peak is definitely the movie for you.
Even with the poor on-screen development of the characters and gratuitous jump-scare numbers, you can be darn certain I’m purchasing this movie as soon as I can get my hands on it. Especially if this is the closest I’ll get to a del Toro Drood adaptation.