Those going into Guillermo del Toro’s “Crimson Peak” expecting an out and out horror film are likely to come away disappointed. This isn’t even really a ghost story. It’s a story with ghosts in it. In “Crimson Peak”, del Toro has brought Gothic Romance to the screen in glorious style – a perfect match-up between a masterfully visual filmmaker and genre.
As a child, Edith Cushing, the daughter of wealthy businessman Carter Cushing is visited by the dark and disfigured spirit of her dead mother, warning her to ‘beware of Crimson Peak’. Many years later, Edith (Mia Wasikowska), now an aspiring young writer, encounters the mysterious English nobleman Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), much to the chagrin of her would-be suitor Dr McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). Following the unexpected death of her father, Edith seeks solace in the arms of Sir Thomas and after a whirlwind courtship, they are married and set off for England to take up residence in the ancestral home of the Sharpe family: Allerdale Hall. But wedded bliss is short-lived as Edith grows weaker and weaker with a mysterious ailment, attended by Sir Thomas’ cold and distant sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and further ghostly visitations.
A twisted and dark love story, “Crimson Peak” revisits a favourite theme that runs through all of del Toro’s works, that of trying to escape the past. While the story itself isn’t particularly complex and viewers may well figure out (or at least get close) the dark and deadly twists quite early on, an unexpected narrative is not where the joy and artistry of this film lie. The lavish and intricate sets, marvellous costumes and, above all, the fantastically eldritch atmosphere that del Toro infuses the whole work with is where it transcends its storytelling to become something quite wonderful.
Hiddleston is perfect as the brooding leading man of the piece, providing a counterpoint to Hunnan’s noble and conventional hero figure while Mia Wasikowska is simply made to be the waiflike heroine of grisly Victoriana such as this. Chastain is a little overdone in her role as the weird sister but amongst the glorious decay and dark secrets of Allerdale the performance actually works and helps prolong some of the mysteries as the plot unfolds.
Absolutely nailing the Gothic Romantic aesthetic, this is Grand Guignol on the grandest of scales. Sumptuous, atmospheric and occasionally, jarringly violent “Crimson Peak” is a lyrical and beautiful work of art which needs to be seen on the biggest possible canvas to be fully appreciated. If you don’t see this on the silver screen in the dark embrace of a hushed theatre, when you finally catch it on DVD or BluRay you’ll wish you had.