The creak of a wooden stair. The bump in the night. The chill on the back of your neck. As cliche as it sounds, these are the tiny but powerfully unsettling things that master director Guillermo del Toro seeks to turn into your worst nightmare. The most terrifying parts of Crimson Peak are in its eerie silence and candlelit amblings down decrepit hallways, when you never know quite what is lurking around the corner.
Although the fantastic Crimson Peak is being marketed as a straightforward horror film (and it certainly has its scares), Del Toro himself correctly pointed out that this is far more of a love letter to Victorian romance stories and Gothic horror than it is a ghost story.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith, an impressionable young American swept off her feet by the dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) after the mysterious death of her entrepreneur father. Whisking her away to his family's estate across the pond where he lives with his colder-than-ice sister Lucille, the ghostly warnings Edith has been receiving all her life begin to come to fruition as she learns to truly "Beware of Crimson Peak."
There are truly very few horror filmmakers out there who can still craft a truly incredible sense of atmosphere, and Guillermo del Toro is one of the absolute greats. His unique style of production design is perfectly suited for a Victorian fairy tale and the incredible set of Allerdale Hall just allows Del Toro's imagination to run wild. Applying his signature creature design to these horrific specters, their bones crack and creak as they loom through the dark hallways and it's simply awe-inspiring.
As A-list a cast as Del Toro recruits here, their commitment to an old-school kind of campiness in their delivery is admirable. Some of what the script gives them could be considered groaners but Hiddleston, Chastain and Wasikowka's delivery is excellent as they are fully committed to the kind of story Del Toro wanted to tell. Particularly excellent is Jessica Chastain as the menacing sister Lucille, perfecting the chill in that deep-seated evil that boils under the surface, and absolutely reveling in the madness that's revealed as the plot unfolds.
In any other director's hands a lot of Crimson Peak probably would've fallen flat, but Del Toro's strength is that he plays all of it completely straight. He fully believes in the power of atmosphere and his attention to detail in his craft helps to fully immerse the audience in some truly fantastic tales. His penchant for gore is certainly still on display, and the fact that Del Toro carefully chooses when to unleash the brutality only makes these moments more powerful, especially in the requisite bloodbath finale
It's an old school kind of horror told with unapologetic camp, and aside from some faulty pacing in the end, it is without a doubt one of the best theatrical experiences of the year, one of Del Toro's finest films, and a highly recommended Halloween treat.