Guillermo del Toro is one of those directors that truly owns genre filmmaking. It doesn’t matter if it’s an elaborate fantasy set during the Spanish Civil War or a gigantic robot smackdown in the modern day, del Toro uses the tools and the story in front of him to create a film that’s not only worth watching, but worth talking about. Crimson Peak is another such film, as the director pays tribute to a genre many might not expect him to be in love with: Gothic romance.
Ghosts are real. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) knows this from first-hand experience, as she can sense their presence like no one else. Yet her first visitation from a spectre haunts her throughout her life, as it bore an ominous warning, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” It’s a warning that could have prevented her from marrying the mysteriously handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston,) as well as having to deal with the equally enigmatic Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). Both have a secret that Edith is set onto the path to unraveling, with the dark gift that haunts her leading the way to the dangerous truth.
Crimson Peak isn’t the typical haunted-house film the commercials are advertising. In fact, this film owes more of a debt to Jane Eyre than The Conjuring, though there are plenty of tense, scary moments that occur during the film’s story. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has crafted a high-quality throwback to those intensely moody period films that were made during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Of course, the modern age being what it is, del Toro’s version of gothic romance includes brutal imagery, risque thrills, and a ton of blood that you see spilt front and center. Remove the modern trappings, though, and this film could have been made several decades ago.
A huge part of why the film works as an effective throwback to period dramas of the past is the fact that the main trio of Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are such great actors that they understand how to pay homage to the past without mocking it. In inferior hands, the brooding and dreadful air about these characters would be reduced to a series of awkward looks. But Crimson Peak does not throw away any character, any line, or any frame of film in its quest to scare the hell out of you - while breaking your heart at the same time.
Another notable aspect about Crimson Peak is the visual component, seeing as it’s probably the most colorful film you’ll see all year. The costuming, as well as the hues of lighting that splash across them, take full advantage of the crisp HD world our eyes expect to see at the movies. Not only that, it’s also one of the most beautifully shot films of this year, as cinematographer Dan Laustsen eschews the modern aesthetic and provides us with images that move in a fluid formation that allows us to see what’s going on during the action.
Crimson Peak is a film that isn’t made for box office grosses. It is a film that’s made to thoroughly entertain the audience, and stand the test of time. Guillermo del Toro fans wouldn’t expect anything less, and Crimson Peak continues the standard of excellence that the director has exhibited all throughout his career. What separates Crimson Peak from the rest of del Toro’s resume is the fact that it’s the most romantic, and the most “old Hollywood” film in his canon. Crimson Peak will make you believe in ghosts, but it will also make you believe in the magic of the movies yet again.