Review: Crimson Peak, a gorgeous, Gothic horror story

By Todd Perkins, Staff Movie Reviewer

Movie rating: 3.5 stars

One of the reasons Guillermo Del Toro is such a revered filmmaker is that he loves cinema and storytelling, no matter the genre. He has made one of the best ghost stories with “The Devil’s Backbone,” greatest vampire films with “Cronos,” greatest fairy tales with “Pan’s Labyrinth,” superhero adaptations with “Hellboy,” and monster vs. robot movies with “Pacific Rim.”

Now he brings us an original classic gothic horror tale with “Crimson Peak.”

His latest film stars Mia Wasikowska as young heiress Edith Cushing, who has had a past encounter with a ghost carrying the warning, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Her life begins to unravel with the arrival of the handsome and romantic Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who immediately sets his sights on Cushing in hopes of making her his bride. Edith soon finds herself married and halfway across the world in England at the Sharpe’s estate, but quickly discovers that there is a sinister secret being kept within the dark corridors and eerie silence of her new home.  

Del Toro has a knack for knowing what his audience presumes is going to happen in his stories and to his characters, and he takes great delight in delivering what his viewers crave rather than what they expect. ‘Peak’ is a chilling ghost story in the vein of Washington Irving or Sheridan Le Fanu, but the director gives it a visual style unlike anything these classic writers could have imagined.

The house comes alive through the immaculate set design, and the costumes and camera work follow suit. Aesthetically, this is a perfect film that outdoes any haunted house depicted throughout the history of horror films, which is quite a feat considering that the ‘haunted house’ subgenre has been around since the beginning of cinema.  

The cast is excellent with Wasikowska making the most of her damsel-in-distress character. Edith is neither presented as unintelligent or pathetic, but rather a sentimental person who has been accustomed to tragedy from an early age. She plays the part well even when the notes fall a little flat.

Hiddleston shines as the tortured, yet engrossing Thomas who seems to yearn for something he cannot articulate. As good as both leads are, and they are terrific, it is Jessica Chastain who steals the show as Thomas’s sister Lucille. She nails each twist and turn Del Toro throws at her, and she is as frightening as she is enigmatic. Lucille is not an easy role to play, but Chastain knows when to be subtle and when to be as ham-fisted as a kabuki performer being told to liven things up. 

The film’s weakness lies in its story. While the scary moments are creative and the pacing bursts with energy, there is not an unpredictable moment within its two hour run time. It is evident that Del Toro lovingly designs and produces his works, but his writing feels more as if it were an homage to these stories rather than an original work inspired by them.

Still, there is much fun to be had and plenty of scares and gore for the horror crowd. “Crimson Peak” is not a perfect film, but it is both an impressive and entertaining spectacle that Del Toro’s fans will marvel over for years to come.