Crimson Peak often feels more like a play than a film. The settings outgrow the screen with their incredibly imaginative design and at times awe-inspiring scale, characters confront the camera and are thrust right to the center of the piece while the ghosts and apparitions lurch terrifyingly towards the audience. Director Guillermo del Toro, whose works are known for their unsettling atmosphere and meticulous attention to detail, has crafted a masterpiece that draws upon often covered ideas to create a piece so equally enticing, nightmarish and eerie that it left me breathless.
Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska portray the lovers Thomas Sharpe and Edith Cushing (a reference to the Hammer Horror star Peter Cushing, the first of many homages) and their relationship is very convincing, with the chemistry between the two spot on.
Following the death of her father, Edith is whisked away to England by Thomas to live in his family home, a sprawling place that is once both enchanting and haunting. Endless corridors with promises of dark secrets, a hall that seems to stretch far into the clouds and a vast gash in one of the many roofs through which petals and snow flutter down are just some of the details that make Allerdale Hall ever more mysterious.
Without taking away any credit from Hiddleston and Wasikowska, who both chip away at the vulnerable side to their characters with expert precision, the real star of the film is Jessica Chastain as Thomas's sinister sister Lucille who manages to deliver the right amount of hair-raising malevolence without reaching Bela Lugosi levels of overacting. Her ominous remarks to Edith and sweepingly theatrical movements seem almost effortlessly sinister and Chastain is well suited to the role and genre as a whole.
Interestingly, Crimson's Peak's genre has actually proved the subject of many debates, with del Toro himself insisting that it is not a horror movie. It is certainly not in the conventional sense, instead possessing a gradually unnerving tone that can lead to almost excruciating viewing. As Edith explains early on, when describing the story she is writing (a nice touch through which del Toro foreshadows the nature of the film), it is a story that features ghosts but they do not form the center of the film. When these monstrous creations do appear though they are hauntingly grotesque, with distorted faces and nightmarishly skeletal features. The core of the film however is Edith's gradual settling into the Sharpe family, with the fear and alienation that grows inside her.
The film is also surprisingly gory in very short bursts, with the crimson red blood ever more shocking and impactful against the macabre atmosphere and setting and is another way in which del Toro unsettles the audience. Allerdale Hall could be compared most closely to Eel Marsh House from 2012's The Woman in Black, a similarly isolated property haunted by supernatural manifestations. However, whereas Eel Marsh was for the most part solely creepy, del Toro's creation is at the same time wondrously enchanting and the attention to detail in every scene is highly impressive.
Crimson's Peak's sound design is also stellar, with every muffled scream and wail having a terror-inducing impact. Fernando Velazquez's score perfectly emphasizes the intense sadness and fear that is synonymous with much of the film.
Crimson Peak achieves the rare feat of managing to traverse multiple genres and themes with ease, weaving them into an enthralling tale that twists and turns in unpredictable ways. It leaves us guessing right until the last minute and it was a perfect homage to the classic American and European horror films of the 30s and 40s with the use of CGI never feeling overdone or distracting. If he hadn't done already, del Toro has now cemented his name as one of the most adaptable and prestigious directors of his generation.