Though many contemporary horror films have Gothic tropes, Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming Crimson Peak is the only mainstream film in my recent memory which not only appears to be wholly Gothic, but actually bills itself as such (the unofficial tagline is “A Gothic Romance”).
So just how Gothic is it?
One only needs to watch the trailer to see that it checks off all of the main tropes that defined Gothic Romantic stories from the 18th and 19th centuries…
An innocent maiden
…who falls for a
Dark and brooding (Byronic) antihero
A house that is “alive” and plays a central role in the story,
filled with dramatic, gothic details,
And is home to secrets, suppressed guilt, and the past re-emerging to haunt characters in the present.
These elements are so traditionally Gothic that they can all be traced back to Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, and countless other classic Gothic novels and films come to mind as influences when viewing the trailer.
So it’s definitely Gothic – it fills those classic tropes to a “T”. But does Crimson Peak bring anything new to the table? Add anything to the genre? Subvert any conventions? Or is its mere existence as a self-identified classic Gothic tale in 2015 unique enough?
A recent Time article suggests Del Toro’s contribution to the genre is portraying not one, but two powerful female characters, and adding more “feminist” touches to the film:
“For his part, [del Toro] took pleasure in upending the longstanding cliché of the fallen woman who gets her due. ‘I didn’t want to make a movie where marriage is the ultimate blessing,’ he adds. ‘In Crimson Peak marriage is the gateway to horror.'”
–Time, Oct. 8th, 2015
But this is hardly rare in a genre which owes its success largely to female authors and readers. Some of the most famous Gothic works were written by women and can be interpreted as allegories for the monstrosities of marriage, sex, and childbirth. However, the Gothic often falls into the trap of portraying female characters as either an innocent victim or a calculating vamp – and although it certainly looks like the two leading ladies fit precisely into those character types, I’m hoping at the very least Del Toro gives them both a lot more depth and variation.
If you can’t wait til next week, take a peek at trailers, behind the scenes clips, and interviews on this playlist: