“Crimson Peak” is a grand return to form for Guillermo del Toro.
The great Mexican director’s last film, 2013’s nifty monster vs. robot story “Pacific Rim,” didn’t showcase his signature style, but “Crimson Peak” peeks inside his insidious imagination, an overwhelming gothic ghost house that permeates everything.
Yet the movie feels fairly lightweight, like swirls of dead leaves drifting through a foyer.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, a would-be writer of ghost stories living in New York around the turn of the 20th century.
Good-hearted ophthalmologist Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) loves her, but she is drawn to the haunting Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who can dance a waltz without extinguishing a candle clasped in their hands together.
Thomas is trying to raise money to mine the weird red clay on his property in England, and wants Edith’s father to invest, but dad does not like Thomas.
But father dies, and Edith marries Thomas. She moves to England with him and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
The Sharpe family mansion is an awesome, awful place, peppered with black butterflies, creaky noises, red gunk seeping through the floors, rooms you’re not supposed to go into, and ghosts.
The ghosts, with hideous, distorted faces and limbs, are, of course, trying to right some longstanding wrong. Edith, in her puffy nightgown shaped like a marshmallow man, tries to solve the mystery.
Based, no doubt, on a handful of del Toro’s favorite dark romance movies (“Gaslight,” “Notorious”) and novels (the movie mentions Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and Arthur Conan Doyle), the movie is a tribute to a bygone era of storytelling rather than something plumbed from the flimmaker’s soul.
It’s no “Pan’s Labyrinth,” but it is as intricately, astoundingly designed and as entertaining as del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”
The lighting in “Crimson Peak” draws out reds, or highlights streaks of black and white. (Blood-colored mud seeps into footprints in the snow.) Even Chastain’s red hair is colored black, perhaps because it wasn’t the correct shade of red. It’s possible del Toro was trying to say something with these choices, but it’s also possible they simply looked cool.
Even though it’s a satisyfing howl, “Crimson Peak” could have been more. True, Del Toro effectively has dug into his bags of tricks here, but the movie still doesn’t fully display his true depth.
Three and a half stars
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam
Written by Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Running time 1 hour, 59 minutes