Guillermo Del Toro Channels the Ghost of Hitchcock With ‘Crimson Peak’

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Over the past 20 years, Guillermo Del Toro has established himself as a master of genre cinema, spinning different yarns in the subgenres of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. But you could always draw a line in the middle of Del Toro’s work – the wilder popcorn fare served for his English language projects, while saving his more somber and serious work for his Spanish language productions. Now that line is fully erased with Crimson Peak, Del Toro’s self-described “gothic romance.” Wrapping a twisted tale of romance in the confines of a haunted house, the film is gorgeous, gory, and great.

In 19th Century Buffalo, New York, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) aspires to be a writer. She’s having trouble getting anything published due to her gender, and the fact that her stories involve ghosts – she also had an encounter with the ghost of her mother at the tender young age of ten. Her father Carter (Jim Beaver) is a wealthy industrialist, and she’s drawn the attention of Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam), who has just returned from studying in London. One day, she finds herself meeting Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a British aristocrat seeking financing for his clay mining operation. Carter, however, is unmoved by Thomas’ impassioned presentation, but his daughter quickly takes a liking to the British stranger. As Edith falls for Thomas, her father has suspicions about him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) and hires a private investigator (Burn Gorman) to dig up dirt on the siblings from across the Atlantic. But when Carter suddenly dies, Edith marries Thomas and moves with him and his sister to their decaying estate in England where nothing is as it seems.

Crimson Peak works as well as it does because of the manner in which Del Toro and co-writer Matthew Robbins play with the story’s central mystery. Everything isn’t building up towards one big reveal. Instead, one mystery is resolved and another is amplified, working on layers and layers of set-ups and reveals. It’s an incredibly engaging form of storytelling that pairs exquisitely with Del Toro’s assured direction and the film’s majestic production design.

And the film is absolutely gorgeous. The massive sets of the decaying mansion combined with the majestic wardrobe and atmospheric lighting are just a sight to behold, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography captures all the lush visuals with ample splendor. Del Toro is a smart enough filmmaker that he doesn’t have to rely on the explicit to build tension, distant sounds and shadows scuttling across the frame ensure that the gruesome payoff matters. Which, by the way, isn’t to say that there’s not plenty of gore in Crimson Peak – there’s just enough. But Crimson Peak really is Guillermo Del Toro’s loving homage to the Alfred Hitchcock films of the ‘40s, with echoes of Rebecca, Notorious, Suspicion, and even Under Capricorn to be found throughout.

Exuding that same balance between charming and creepy that made him a fan favorite as Loki, Tom Hiddleston is just a delight to watch as the ambitious husband harboring some dark secret. As Lucille, Jessica Chastain is unnerving and captivating. In the role of the tormented Edith, Mia Wasikowska brings another reliable performance as this radiant beauty pulled into a twisted world, much as she did in Stoker. However, not everyone is operating one such a high level. Once again, Charlie Hunnam brings a weird, inconsistent and unidentifiable accent to a Guillermo Del Toro film, and comes off more as a wooden doofus than a doctor.

From start to finish, Crimson Peak is a pleasure of atmospheric cinema, operating with equal measure of scares, suspense, humor, and outright ugly gore. It’s undoubtedly Guillermo Del Toro’s finest English language film, well-rounded and mature but still playing within the confines of genre filmmaking. Del Toro adds ghosts to a Hitchcockian canvas and paints of the most wonderful portraits of horror and suspense of recent memory.

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