The Unheimliche Maneuver

New Crimson Peak trailer has me (and the rest of certain corners of fandom) swooning into a puddle of unf. I know I was overcome by a fit of hysteria and desirous of a visit to a physician to have my condition treated with one of those newfangled vibrating devices.



I was trying to come up with something intelligent to say about why the Crimson Peak permutation works for me when Fifty Shades of Gray doesn’t. They’re both playing with the same tropes of a woman trapped in situations of control, fear, abuse, and helplessness, all used to create a state of erotic tension. It’s NOT just the casting of Tom Hiddleston, or direction by Guillermo del Toro, or all the gorgeous costumes and sets that make the difference.

Also, I’m not usually susceptible to the ‘problematic tropes can be made tolerable if they’re pretty enough’ thing.

I think it might be because this film positions itself as horror rather than romance. And gothic horror in particular, which uses terror to evoke that sense of erotic tension, and then breaks into either horror (dead body) or romance (husband).* Gothic’s balancing act between horror and romance works because, at some level, it was women’s literature exploring the fear and powerlessness of being a woman in Victorian society, when women had few life choices, little agency within or outside of marriage, and scant education (and often active discouragement) to understand their own desires and sexuality.

I think that’s why the idea of Crimson Peak works for me. The terror/horror element adds a layer of critique against the paradigm the PoV character is trapped in, and the gothic genre agreement promises that she’s likely to find her way through to some sort of agency. Whereas in Fifty Shades, the abuse is presented as acceptable and desirable, and the HEA genre agreement of contemporary romance indicates that the main character will never escape and will even come to accept her subjugation as desirable and a product of her own agency.

Now that’s a horrifying end.


*deepest apologies to all my 19th century lit-crit friends for that egregious over-simplification of Gothic literature! Siobhan’s going to hunt me down and stab me with her hat pin.

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