Guillermo del Toro is a masterful director. His imagination is second to none, creating some of the most memorable monsters and visuals over the last 20 years. Sadly, del Toro’s unparalleled creativity always seems to come at the cost of a film’s plot. Take for example his latest, Crimson Peak.
Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith, a struggling author in 19th century Buffalo. She meets the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), and after a terrible accident involving Edith’s father, the two are married and, accompanied by Thomas’s gloomy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), leave Buffalo for the Sharpe family estate in England, Allerdale Hall.
In terms of production design and look, Allerdale Hall is a feast for the eyes. The home is pure del Toro through and through. However, Allerdale Hall is also in complete ruin. Leaves and snow fall in the lobby, thanks to a massive hole in the middle of the place that extends to the roof. Bugs, living and dead, are everywhere. The house is sinking into the red clay it was built upon, and that clay even leaks down the walls. With the film set during winter, nobody should be within fifty miles of Allerdale Hall.
Oh. The place is also riddled with ghosts.
Edith has always been able to see ghosts, which — despite being good or bad — are terrifying. As a child, the spirit of her mother visits, telling Edith to “Beware the crimson peak.” What is the crimson peak? Anyone familiar with the film knows the warning has to do with Allerdale Hall, so why not call the film Allerdale Hall? Probably because Crimson Peak sounds a lot cooler.
Crimson Peak is more of a love story than a horror and really dives into how twisted and poisonous love can become, leading people to do unspeakable acts in the name of that four-letter word. Most of the ghosts that pop up are still on Earth as a result of sins committed in the name of love. The ghosts are the most interesting aspect of Crimson Peak, yet they barely figure into the main plot.
Story has never been del Toro’s strong suit. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II are the arguably the only films of his where the visuals don’t swallow up the story. Pacific Rim is a blast, but does anyone remember the characters, or just the whole giant robots fighting giant monsters thing? Crimson Peak is similar, boasting a predictable plot that takes a backseat to the visuals and effects, but that’s okay. You see a Guillermo del Toro film to soak in his imagination more than anything else, and when Crimson Peak is never better than when the director unleashes those spooky poltergeists. They usually appear in typical haunted house fare, with Edith roaming the halls alone at night, jumping at every scratch and moan she hears. In the hands of someone like del Toro, even the generic stuff can get scary in a hurry. Allerdale Hall is already spooky enough on its own, but throw in ghosts roaming around in the background? Yeesh.
One of these days, everything is going to click and Guillermo del Toro is going to give the world a true masterpiece. With his imagination, it’s inevitable. Until then, we can all just sit back and enjoy a true visionary having the time of his life.