Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to both V.C. Andrews and Edgar Allen Poe is a beautifully crafted gothic horror that will make you squirm in your seat as your eyeballs dance around the wonderfully appointed screen.
It takes the elements of gothic literature—love transcending death, seductive strangers—and the weirdness we expect from del Toro—haunted houses, ghosts, vats of blood and even incest—to create a whole that is one of the most singular films of the year.
Period-piece It Girl Mia Wasikowska is Edith Cushing, daughter of a Buffalo, New York construction magnate. She’s a writer, penning a story of ghosts and love, when she is swept away by a mysterious stranger. Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) are British gentry in America to raise money to perfect and build a machine to mine the rich, crimson red clay that lies under their family estate. Edith is immediately taken with Mr. British Tall Dark and Handsome, leaving her previous suitor Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) behind.
Soon they are married and off to Sharpe’s family estate, nicknamed Crimson Peak because in the winter the red clay it sits on turns the snow a lurid shade of cerise. The crumbling building holds many secrets in its rotting walls, secrets Edith must unravel if she is to survive.
Bloody and by times bloody terrifying, every frame of “Crimson Peak” drips with del Toro’s Grand-Guignol sensibility. Madness and murder are front and center, coupled with arch performances—Chastain in particular embodies the Hammer Horror style of wild-eye-acting—and the director’s flawless instinct for creating unease in the audience. It’s a transport to another world, a place where the ground seeps red and old houses moan in the wind. With atmosphere to burn it’s an operatic companion piece to “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” that plays like a fever dream.