by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Last month we offered our review of Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic film, Crimson Peak, raving over its atmosphere and performances. Since it won’t be released in a home-viewing format for a while yet, how are we supposed to refresh our Crimson Peak fix until then?
Read the movie tie-in novel, of course!
Crimson Peak by veteran horror author Nancy Holder is a dead ringer for its onscreen counterpart, offering a scene-by-scene text recreation of the film. But Holder often goes deeper, offering perspectives from characters not fully expressed on screen, elaborating on the story’s emotional arc, and adding to the haunting atmosphere with her own nuanced, sometimes surprising voice.
If you’ve seen the film, there’s nothing new here. At times the book feels flat, as if the words alone can’t live up to the actors’ performances, and the author was required to give as close a blow-by-blow account as possible. But in other moments, Holder’s own prose shines:
It watched the house’s breath scatter the dry leaves that drifted in, drifted by. The walls were bleeding from fissures in the wallpaper. Stab wounds, or a razor blade drawn across a vein? Moths flew out; maggots fed. The mad head of the house was rotting, and night was dragging her wings across the moon, tracing filigree on the floor. In the attic, more black moths were dancing because it was cold, because it was dark. Because they were hungry.
For the butterfly.
The biggest challenge here is the same minor plot weakness that caused the film to stumble a bit at the end. With so much glorious setup, with the fantastic otherworldly intervention of the supernatural–which is what drew us to this story, after all!–Crimson Peak deserves a bigger payoff, a less predictable and mundane explanation for all the horror. But Holder actually manages the material a little more deftly than it appeared on screen; the pacing is more dread-inducing as she doles it out piecemeal. We already know what’s happening, and yet the book’s buildup is better than the film’s letdown. Whatever Holder can’t render as stunningly via prose (del Toro’s visionary ghosts), she makes up for in suspense.