“Crimson Peak” is a story about how the past is never truly dead and buried, which is fitting because the movie itself is an homage to the spine-tingling ghost tales of cinematic yore.
You half expect Vincent Price to pop out from behind a candelabra just to say “Boo!”
Visionary director Guillermo del Toro has set out to make the definitive gothic horror movie and by bringing in a top-shelf cast, mixing in some stunning visuals and production design, all while tipping his hat to fright-fest classics like the original “The Haunting” and “House of Usher,” he totally pulls it off.
The story is a simple, but ghoulish one that centers on our young heroine Edith Cushing, a woman as strong-willed as she is beautiful and kind, who is also blessed/cursed with the ability to see ghosts.
Edith is played by the lovely Mia Wasikowska, a talented actress who never met a period piece she didn’t like after starring in “Alice in Wonderland” and adaptations of “Jane Eyre” and “Madame Bovary.” We need to get this girl out of a corset and into some jeans and a sweatshirt, stat.
At any rate, Edith falls in love with a dashing British aristocrat Thomas Sharpe (played to sinister/sweet perfection by Tom Hiddleston), much to the chagrin of her father, Carter (the great character actor Jim Beaver, who you most likely remember from “Deadwood”), and her childhood friend, Alan (played by Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” fame).
Because we wouldn’t have much of a movie otherwise, Thomas and Edith are wed and move back home with Thomas’ cold, watchful sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain, the queen of the understated performance allowing herself to chew a little scenery).
Home just so happens to be the ricketiest manor this side of Transylvania and is as much a character as anyone else in the film. With architecture approved by H.P. Lovecraft, the house has fallen into such a state of atmospheric disrepair that a massive hole in the roof above the main staircase means either leaves or snow are always falling inside.
Couple this with the ridiculous fact the house is built on top of, and relentlessly sinking into, a massive deposit of bright-red clay, which gives the impression the walls are actively bleeding.
The burn in this movie is a slow one and at its heart it is a tragic love story punctuated with a few acts of gruesome violence and some deeply unsettling imagery. Hardcore horror fans will probably be disappointed at the lack of buckets of gore, but then this is what you get when you dip your horror in prestige.
For the rest of us, “Crimson Peak” is the perfect Halloween treat, a little scary, a little sweet, and unquestionably haunting. And don’t forget the stunning visuals, as who doesn’t want a little eye candy mixed with their Halloween bounty?
“Crimson Peak” is rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content, and brief strong language.