It’s a big, operatic horror movie for an age wherein audiences forever seek grittier and more naturalistic, immediate fare.
So perhaps the experiment wasn't a total success.
Although Edith knows much about ghosts -- since she encountered one when she was ten -- she knows nothing of love.
In The Turn of the Screw, it is Bly.
And in Rebecca that estate is known as Manderley.
In Crimson Peak, of course, we get Allerdale Hall, an estate of inhuman dimensions that is slowly sinking beneath a sea of red clay. The roof has shattered at points, and the outside environment has breached the main hall. The architecture itself seems to possess a sense of menace and inhumanity.
Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester, for example, keeps the same secret from Jane that Thomas keeps from Edith in Crimson Peak.
Both men have already been married, and are technically still married. They are, therefore, not available for marriage. Uniquely, Thomas shares a history with Rebecca’s Maxim de Winter as well: he is a murderer.
Also, Lucille is the co-conspirator and, in a way, first “love” of Thomas that must be destroyed if Thomas and Edith are to have a chance at happiness. So she’s really both the evil first wife, Rebecca, and Mrs. Danvers too, if that description makes sense. In terms of coloring, Chastain's character certainly resembles Danvers as well.
In Jane Eyre, Jane learns that Edward’s first wife is mad. In Rebecca, the protagonist learns that Maxim committed murder because his first wife was unfaithful and cruel. If this naïve character -- either Edith or Jane -- cannot ferret out the truth about the family she marries into or works for, she may be doomed to repeat the same tragedies.
In the case of the former, Edith Cushing -- named after Peter, no doubt -- survives poisoning, and a harrowing fall from a staircase ledge, for example. In the latter case, Edith learns that she can fight back against those who plot against her, and that she need not be a shrinking violet.
Director del Toro finds unforgettable imagery that suggests how creatures of a fragile nature cannot survive, even though they are beautiful.
A butterfly is devoured by ants in close-up, and that’s precisely a metaphor for what could happen to Edith, if Tom and Lucille have their way with her. Similarly, the film compares the delicate, golden butterflies of New York with the monstrous black moths of Allerdale. Once more, it is impossible not to consider these creatures as stand-ins for Edith and Lucille.
Just as it is Lucille’s nature to love Tom, and dominate (and kill…) Edith...as she has killed all of Tom’s previous wives. So Lucille is essentially letting herself off the hook when she describes the destruction of beauty as nature's way. She is not a monster, she is just a product of her nature. Or so Lucille tells herself.
Additionally, this description seems a sub-textual reference to On the Origin of the Species (1859), Darwin’s treatise on evolutionary biology. In the 1887 of the del Toro film, Lucille would certainly have been familiar with that controversial work, and applied the kind of “survival of the fittest” paradigm to her attempts to secure financial superiority for herself, her brother, and her family.
Specifically, ghosts are a metaphor for the past, and the dark, tragic histories that haunt many families. The film's ghosts may also be a metaphor for the “love” that Edith comes to learn about, via her experience with Thomas Sharpe.
The first ghost Edith ever saw was that of her dead mother who -- out of love -- warned her to stay far clear of “Crimson Peak.”
Her great adult love -- whom she loses -- is Tom, and before the movie is over, he too is a ghost; one undone not by love, but by the familial past that bound him to Lucille and her twisted love.
Also, I appreciate how the ghosts are visualized. Their wounds (in life) still bleed in death; leaving delicate comet tails and wisps in the air. The ides -- once more -- is of the permanence of history. Even in death, you cannot escape the “wounds” brought about by love.
They forever bleed.
Overall, the idea if the film seems to be that ghosts “are real,” but they are a hell of a lot less frightening than people are. They are less frightening than Lucille is. She’s the movie’s real monster -- made so by “love, The ghosts are really just bit players.
Crimson Peak fails that test, but substitutes other worthwhile pleasures. I realize we have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) on the horizon, but Crimson Peak is, instead, Jane Eyre Meets the Evil Dead...and it isn’t a parody.
It’s a pastiche, and that means that del Toro goes about his art with his painter’s eye for memorable imagery. His intellect informs every scene too. The director can only expand the boundaries of the Gothic romance by understanding the history of the Gothic romance.
It's fair to state del Toro knows his Gothic romances well, and therefore is the perfect artist to take its tropes to a new -- and bloody -- peak.