Crimson Peak

Movie Information

The Story: A young woman marries a strange man and discovers that life with him and his sister in the family mansion isn't what she'd hoped for. The Lowdown: Guillermo del Toro's gothic horror, haunted house shocker — perhaps the most visually striking film of the year — is in a class by itself. A rich and effective horror movie with exquisite detail, real scares and surprisingly strong characters. Go see it.
Genre: Gothic Horror
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, Jim Beaver
Rated: R



If you approach Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak with visions of it being another Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), chances are you will be disappointed. But the simple truth is that the director’s latest was never intended to be anything other than the lushest gothic horror movie ever made. This isn’t an attempt to reinvent the genre, but an attempt to create the ultimate expression of it. And, if he doesn’t entirely succeed, he comes so close that complaining feels like splitting hairs. This is, first and foremost, a film of atmosphere and style, but this is not empty style. No, it’s all in the service of creating an uncanny sense of creepy dread with the threat of violence always in evidence — and it’s all done without violating its chosen genre.




The film stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, a young woman, with ideas of being a writer, who finds her literary endeavors dismissed because of her sex and because she’s written what is referred to as a “ghost story.” When she objects that it’s not a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it, she might well be speaking of the film itself. She is certainly addressing her own experience, since — as we’ve seen in the striking prologue — she’s certainly had an encounter with a ghost. The story, however, centers on the arrival of Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston — looking for all the world like Gabriel Byrne’s Lord Byron in Ken Russell’s Gothic, which I suspect is not coincidental) in her world. He’s come to America — along with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain) — to attempt to secure financing for his invention to mine the rich, blood-red (of course) clay beneath his decaying estate in the English Lake District.




Instead of finding the money he hoped for from Edith’s father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), he finds and romances Edith — something that doesn’t sit well with her father, who has taken a dislike to the young man. It turns out there is good reason to dislike Sharpe. Though the specifics are kept from us, they’re sufficient to allow Cushing to buy off Sharpe and secure a promise that Sharpe will disillusion Edith and leave. But, before Sharpe can leave, Cushing is murdered (though it’s considered an accident), leaving Sharpe free to marry the wealthy heiress and take her home to Cumberland — and the world’s ultimate Old Dark House. It is here, in this crumbling house filled with ghosts, where even the very earth appears to bleed, that Edith will piece together the truth of her situation and the secrets of Thomas and Lucille.




It may be fairly said that Crimson Peak hews pretty close to the basics of gothic horror, which is to say that — at least in broad strokes — little happens that you don’t expect, though you probably don’t expect it to play out quite the way it does. For instance, Edith may be a damsel in distress, but she’s hardly of the helpless kind, even if her former boyfriend (Charlie Hunnam) comes to her rescue — or at least is part of it. Plus, Crimson Peak isn’t story-driven and doesn’t rely on cheap gimmicks and twists. No, it relies on atmosphere, filmmaking style and surprisingly compelling characterizations to make it work.




Crimson Peak doesn’t short us on thrills and suspense, and there’s certainly no shortage of things that go bump in the night (or really any time of day) in del Toro’s sumptuous spook house. And, by itself, that would be enough, but it’s too richly complex for that. Unfortunately, it’s also, apparently (to judge by the box office), too complex for mass consumption — or maybe it’s simply a film out of its time. Maybe in a world of cheap shockers — like umpteenth Paranormal Stupidity movie opening this week — there’s just not a market for a movie this classy and thoughtful. That’s not only unfortunate for the film, but it’s unfortunate for us. Rated R for bloody violence, some sexual content and brief strong language.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “Crimson Peak

  1. Bentenn

    So glad you liked this film! Ive been defending it other places since on the web since Friday! I was hoping you would bring up Gothic too. I say that in part because I’m still so happy I came to see Gothic last year on the Thursday Horror screening. It’s stuck with me ever since. Along with other Russell films it’s become one of my favorites and allows for me to appreciate other films like Crimson Peak even more.

  2. leonard pollack

    Are you aware of Del Toros love affair with Ken’s work. He claims to watch THE DEVILS monthly. Thought this would interest you. Hope all is well. Have a great holiday and New Year.

    • Ken Hanke

      I knew del Toro was keen on Ken, but I’d never heard about a monthly watch of The Devils. Thanks.

  3. Lauren Ferguson

    I believe del Toro’s marketing dept. are to blame for its low marks for they insisted upon marketing it as a Horror film. This action was aimed toward wooing del Toro’s fanboy fan base which was a huge misstep. They Hate the film because it wasn’t what was promised them and they are busy trashing it. It is a real shame because the film deserves so much better. It is gorgeous and wonderfully acted.

    • Ken Hanke

      I would love to hang it on the marketing, but I can’t do it. I don’t like the look of the US one sheet — especially when compared with the UK posters — but it makes no attempt to tie it to Pacific Rim or even the Hellboy movies, which would be the closest thing to del Toro having a fanboy fan base. No, it cites Pan’s Labyrinth. Now, I think that may have been a mistake, but it’s of a different nature, since it suggested we were getting a rare fantasy, when what we got was a gothic horror movie. (It’s probably closer to The Devil’s Backbone than to Pan.) I really don’t think you can make a persuasive case that it isn’t a horror movie — not with all the horrific elements the movie contains. But it’s a very specific kind of horror. It’s a romantic gothic, sure. For all that, though, it’s still a creepy ghost story, rife with all manner of Old Dark House horrors.

      Comparing the trailer to the film, I’d call it a pretty fair representation of what del Toro made — maybe too much so. It may have been too much so the minute it became apparent that it was a period piece. That killed off a chunk of the audience right there. We don’t live in the world of James Whale, or even that of the (now rather cheesy looking) Hammer horrors. We live in the age of things like Saw and Paranormal Activity. Thing is you wouldn’t know that from Crimson Peak with its gothic trappings and its shuddery chills and Dutch angles. Guillermo del Toro is a major stylist and fantasist, and that’s just not the going thing. It’s a film out of its time. The downside is that it’s looking for an audience that isn’t there at the moment. The upside is that he’s made a film that will last.

  4. T.rex

    It was outstanding! I loved it. The imagery alone was worth the price of admission, great use of blues and reds. Shots of creepy hallways havent given me this many goose bumps in a long time, probably not since The Shining. Do what Ken said, go see it! It will be a huge mistake to not see this in a cinema.

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