Guillermo del Toro’s last few films have been warm and affectionate love letters to specific genre fare. Pacific Rim neatly positions itself as a monster film with an inherently positive humanism shining through. With Crimson Peak, Del Toro creates a perfect harmony between Gothic horror and the exuberant, surreal style of Italian horror cinema.
Many times, one can recall Mario Baba, Dario Argento, and even Lucio Fulci during the picture. Baba’s strong sense of color pervades the film. Argento’s headbanging surrealism elevates the film’s smaller moments. And Del Toro seems like he had Fulci’s Zombie on a loop when crafting the gore related scenes. Above all, Del Toro commendably understands the careful creation of a Gothic horror film. In this sub-genre, the horror comes from lingering mysterious, a potent sense of melancholia and a deeply ingrained sense of passion and longing. At the same time, Del Toro also injects a sense of modernity into proceedings. The sole love scene primarily has male nudity. Usually, it would be the opposite, particularly in horror cinema.
Additionally, the film’s side male character Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) is set up as a hero that is going to save Edith Cushing. (Mia Wasikowska) However, this proves to be a red herring as the film’s climax pits Cushing against Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) in a confrontation that strangely evokes the original Friday the 13th. It is in these scenes where Chastain’s prior powerful and understated frailty are unraveled into mad capped hysterics and murderous intent. Chastain’s performance is the true secret weapon of the film.
However, for all these bright virtues, at the centre of the film is an elephantine problem. Compared to Del Toro’s other films, the film lacks substance. Even within the context of his American work, Crimson Peak is the weakest regarding sub-text and intelligence. There is an interesting thread of Edith being a horror writer and by extension the film being an advocation of the power of Gothic Horror, which is briefly expounded upon in the final speech that Edith delivers. However, these are all merely presumptions on the part of the viewer as opposed to thematic clarity that is ingrained within the fabric of the film.