Guillermo Del Torro waltzes his viewers through another visually stunning cinematic experience with his gothic tale, Crimson Peak. In it, aspiring novelist Edith Cushing (Mia Waikowska, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland”) asserts, “Ghosts are real.” Her first visitor from the beyond came with a warning when she was a grieving ten year old. Although she had no idea what the terrifying spirit meant, she never forgot its message. “Beware of Crimson Peak.”
After being dismissed by a publisher for writing ghost stories instead of the more socially acceptable romance, Edith asks to use her father’s work typewriters to disguise her feminine handwriting. While thus transcribing her manuscript, she made the acquaintance of Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston, Loki from “The Avengers”) who visited Buffalo, New York in hopes of securing an investor in his mining invention. Edith’s father, self-made industrialist (Jim Beaver, Bobby from “Supernatural”) distrusts the smooth-handed, slick-featured Baronet.
Sir Thomas then woos and wins the lovely Edith. They marry after her father is brutally murdered. The newlyweds move to the Baronet’s dilapidated ancestral home, Allerdale Hall in England, joining Sir Thomas’s stoic sister, Lucille (Jessica Castain). Lucille volleys from disdain for her new sister-in-law to fawning, offering tea and comfort to Edith. After taking up residence at her new home, Edith befriends a Papillion dog and is assailed by terrifying visions. She sets out to solve a mystery as her health begins to fail.
Del Torro combines includes all the classic elements of a Gothic romance. Brooding secrets, an innocent heroine, a dashing rescue come into play. Edith’s friend, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) provides a foil for the mysterious bridegroom. Lush, Victorian costuming, haunting melodies (including a creepy lullaby), and enormous portraits of deceased family members couple with hidden pasts, secret marriages and murders, and the betrayal of long-held plans to provide the feel of a Hammer horror film. Most important for the genre, though, is the setting which assumes its own vibrant importance within the story; dripping in red and as thick with shadowy recesses as the secrets it holds, Allerdale Hall invites viewers to linger as its tale unfolds. Del Torro adds his own, distinctive touches, including an obvious respect and sympathy for the departed (mostly portrayed by Doug Jones, Paleman from “Pan’s Labyrinth), cinematic views, and a focus on insects.
Although Crimson Peak is not scary in the “clutch your seats and try not to scream” way, its subtle approach diverges with a few “avert your eyes” scenes of violence that warrant the movie’s “R” rating. Despite a couple of blips, including items dropped by actors that mysteriously disappear (notably a candelabra and a strangled dog) and a few problems with synching the words with the actors’ lips, the film was well-acted and a worthy diversion for an autumn evening.