Guillermo del Toro has a way of drawing audiences into his films, whether it’s with a fantastical faun in a post-Civil War Spain or giant mechanical robots fighting off kaijus. He has a way of taking a simple concept and expanding it into something more than the stereotypical. With Crimson Peak, del Toro combines and reshapes the romance and horror genres into a creepy tale of love and family.
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is working as an aspiring author in England when she meets the handsome and intriguing Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who is in town looking for investors for his clay mining invention. The two immediately take notice of each other, and it’s not long before they are married, much to the chagrin of Thomas’s sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). The newlyweds return to the Sharpe family estate, Allerdale Hall, to start their life together, but upon their arrival Edith fears that there is something deathly wrong with the house. Plagued by nightmares and visions of ghosts, she soon learns that all is not well at Allerdale Hall and that Thomas and Lucille have a secret they are hiding.
Crimson Peak is not strictly a horror movie, however, and anyone going into expecting a plethora of scares will likely be disappointed. It’s a romance, first and foremost, that has some horror elements. The film gets off to a slow start as it sets up the various characters in England. Edith was first visited by the ghost of her mother when she was a small child, which is what drew her to them for her stories. These aren’t your friendly kind of ghosts, however; they’re Guillermo del Toro’s ghosts. They’re transparent and contorted skeletons wrapped in torn shrouds that creep in and out of the shadows.
Even more frightening than the ghosts is the house itself. Allerdale Hall is a gothic mansion that has more than its fair share of problems, the worst of which is a massive hole in the entrance hall roof. The floors also creak, the wind rushes through the thin walls, and the water runs red from the clay all around. It seems to be a horrible place to live, but there it is also absolutely beautiful. Because of the gaping hole, leaves gently tumble down through the vast halls in the fall and snow in the winter. The manor is its own character and makes one stunning setting.
Crimson Peak is one of Guillermo del Toro’s most gorgeous films to date, but the story left me wanting more. The romance between Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston is predictable and rather dull, despite its haunted setting. Jessica Chastain injects some vengeful liveliness into the mix, but it’s not quite enough. Thankfully, the eerie and unnerving atmosphere of the film is there to pick up the slack.