I have been waiting almost two years for this film. Expectations were high, but so was confidence. Guillermo del Toro would be taking on an old favourite of mine: the Victorian gothic ghost story. With Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska in the leading roles, to actors already familiar with the costume drama, I could not be more hyped.
Miss Edith Cushing is a young aspiring author who falls for the dashing baronet Sir Thomas Sharpe. He brings her home to his dilapidated mansion in the middle of nowhere, and of course there are secrets and ghosts lurking in the dark corridors. You might be inclined to think of Jane Eyre, but Sharpe is no Mr. Rochester.
First of all: the film looks great. The manor is exquisitely designed. It could be the house of the Addams family’s English cousins. The house sits on a large red clay deposit, which Sharpe wishes to exploit. The clay colours everything a bloody shade of red. In fact, I was surprised this wasn’t showcased even more than it was, like when the hill is covered in red snow I expected more aerial shots. But it’s always there, oozing in the background. Even the ghosts are coloured red by their last resting places. It is the perfect setting for a ghost story, and as it turns out, a romance.
Despite the grim setting, at its core the film is about the romance between Edith and Thomas. They are very charming together, and the sexual tension that mounts is palpable. One of the few flaws in the film, however, is the balance between romance and horror, between the relationships (both between the lovers and between Thomas and his sister), and the mystery behind the hauntings. The film is bookended by the same scene, so we know where we are heading. We know there are ghosts. The why of the haunting is perhaps less interesting than how the present is shaped by ghosts’ lives, and their untimely ends. Edith says about her own written ghost story that the ghost is a metaphor for the past. Perhaps the film could have taken that line to heart and placed the ghosts more firmly as background characters to the human horror story unfolding before us.
The ghosts are, however, very interestingly designed. Like the house they are perfectly horrible, and they work best on me when they are merely floating or lurking, a threat by their mere presence, instead of the classic “slowly chasing you down the corridor” trope. But then I’ve always been a fan of the slow scare.
The relationships are the real draw for me. Tom Hiddleston outshines everyone, and considering the quality of actors who fill this film, that is saying a lot. I swear that man is so charming he could play the phantom of the Opera and still get the girl. His character also undergoes the biggest change, despite it being Edith’s story. Here again is one of the small flaws with the film. Edith begins as a female writer in a man’s world, determined to be the next Mary Shelley. She has no time to write romance stories. Yet she falls so easily for Sharpe (understandable to us of course) and moves into the ruined house without a single complaint. I think she deserves more than that. While not every movie needs to have the protagonist undergo a change, I do feel a bit more exploration of her character would help.
The flaws did not distract me during the viewing, however. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and found it a perfect story to enjoy on a cold October evening.
Dice roll: 5