Guillermo Del Toro is an expert craftsman when it comes to fantasy cinema, creating unique, surreal worlds that are unlike anything that been seen before within its genre, and has continuously amazed us every time with different yet outstanding films like Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and his two Hellboy films. Crimson Peak sees Del Toro return to the old-school horror chillers in the vein of Cronos and The Devil's Backbone, although this time it's a horrific, violent and twisted gothic romance with elements of a ghost story sprinkled throughout. It's clear that Del Toro set out to make something that hasn't been done this way for a long time, and while there are moments of grisly horror and ghostly chills, they aren't the kind of scares that make you jump out of your seat (as is the common cliché of most horror movies nowadays), but instead are intended to send a chill right up your spine.
However, between the moments of blood and horror are the interpersonal relationships between the characters, and we have a romance that almost has a Romeo and Juliet vibe about it with the seemingly doomed romance that will befall Mia Wasikowska's protagonist and Tom Hiddleston's mysterious baronet. It also has certain shades of the vampire about it, as we have the tall, dark, mysterious man seducing a young innocent woman, reminiscent both visually and thematically of Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Dracula, but as the film progresses, that confident demeanour starts to fade and the more emotionally vulnerable he becomes. The rotting mansion sitting upon the crimson red clay with its blue-green walls and forbidden basements is a gothic triumph in design work, evoking Edgar Allan Poe's House of Usher while also hearkening back to Robert Stevenson's Jane Eyre adaptation or David Lean's version of Great Expectations.
There are shades and echoes of classic gothic horror and romance tales of old, yet Del Toro adds a unique spin that makes this film his own and, much like The Shape of Water which was almost a love letter to Creature From The Black Lagoon, this feels almost like a missive to the stories that inspired and influenced Del Toro. As well as being a masterclass in gothic design, courtesy of production designer Thomas E Sanders, Crystal Peak is sumptuously photographed by cinematographer Dan Lausten, while also adding to the gothic atmosphere is Fernando Velázquez's spine-chilling score. Mia Wasikowska gives a superb performance that is brilliantly nuanced and delicate in her emotions and voice, while Tom Hiddleston gives a strong portrayal of a man that is trapped in his own world but finds love and happiness again through this one woman he meets. However, the most surprising is Jessica Chastain, whose performance is both unhinged yet subtle and icy, almost as if Chastain is channelling her inner Eva Green.
If there are any downsides, it's that some story beats are repeated a little bit too often within the story, and Charlie Hunnam's character is rather pointless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, making you wonder why he was even included in the first place (other than to be the man pining for Wasikowska's affections).
Crimson Peak has proven to be Del Toro's most divisive movie to date, with some being very fond of it while others are frustrated and tired of it. For us, this is not the best film Del Toro has done since it doesn't quite have the polish or the precision of his best works like, but despite this, Crimson Peak is still a sorely underrated gem. It delivers on its promise of being a gothic romance that hearkens back to the best of its genre while also doing unique tricks of its own, as well as boasting terrific production design and stellar performances from its lead cast. If you are a Del Toro fan, this is one that should be checked out.
Limited Edition special features: Audio commentary by co-writer and director Guillermo Del Toro, The House is Alive: Constructing Crimson Peak feature-length documentary, 10 featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes, poster, postcards, 80-page hardback book
CRIMSON PEAK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO / SCREENPLAY: GUILLERMO DEL TORO, MATTHEW ROBBINS / STARRING: MIA WASIKOWSKA, JESSICA CHASTAIN, TOM HIDDLESTON / RELEASE DATE: 14TH JANUARY