I saw Guillermo del Toro's "Crimson Peak" last Friday. I'm a big fan of del Toro, in no small part because he gets the genres he operates in, be it fantasy ("Hellboy" or "Pan's Labyrinth") or monster movies ("Pacific Rim"). He has already made an excellent ghost story ("The Devil's Backbone"), which cannot be said of all directors (I'm looking at Jan de Bont's 1999 remake of "The Haunting"). So when I heard about "Crimson Peak," I couldn't wait to see it.
There is a homage to a classic ghost movie before the movie proper even starts: when the Universal logo swoops across the forty-foot screen (tinted ghastly red, of course), instead of the braying horn-and-orchestra jingle that has annoyed us for years now, we hear a creepy nursery song sung by a piping child's voice. This is in direct imitation of 1961's "The Innocents," starring the late great Deborah Kerr. This tells you right there that we're dealing with someone who knows his ghost movies.
The story goes into the spooky stuff right off the bat: our heroine, a young writer named Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, who looks really cute with her hair done up and wearing wire-rimmed spectacles), not only believes in ghosts, she knows for a fact that they exist: she is visited by her mother's shade shortly after her funeral several years before. Mother even says something to Edith: "When the time comes, beware of Crimson Peak." Edith has no idea what this means. And when she learns later on, she's already in deep trouble.
The plot thickens with the arrival of Thomas Sharpe (played by Tom Hiddleston, whom women tend to swoon over, from what I gather), who has come to America from England with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) seeking funds to finance the mining of the red clay with which his family estate practically overflows. Edith is immediately taken with him, but her father, a self-made millionaire and one of the people Thomas approaches for money, sees something in Mr. Sharpe that he doesn't like. He can't put his finger on what it is, though -- at Thomas' presentation to request for funds, Dad remarks that Thomas has the softest hands he has ever seen, unlike his own rough, calloused hands with which he worked his way to the top. And Thomas has already been denied funds in various European locations, which gives Dad reason enough to follow suit. And when Thomas proposes marriage to Edith, Daddy hires a private investigator (Burn Gorman) to look into Thomas' past. What the investigator finds (whatever it is) is more than enough reason to deny permission for marriage.
But then Daddy dies in a brutal "accident." And Edith, though traumatized by her father's death, decides to accept Thomas' marriage proposal, and returns with him and his sister to England.
(If this movie has a moral, it's, "Listen to your parents. They have a wisdom born of experience that you don't.")
The Sharpe's ancestral home, Allerdale Hall, is a veritable movie in itself. It's a masterpiece of gothic design, but it has also seen better days: it has several holes in the roof, through which leaves fall in autumn and snow falls in winter. It also has chimneys that moan and walls that creak when the wind blows outside. And there are several places, particularly the basement level, where Edith is advised never to go, as they are "unsafe."
To tell more would spoil the story, and the fun. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend this movie.