No horror director tackles dark fantasy quite like Guillermo Del Toro. His films are always visually striking and combine creepy and terrifying with elegance and beauty.
From comic book adapted monster movies like Blade II and Hellboy to winning Oscars for The Shape of Water, Del Toro has demonstrated his immense skill.
However for all the acclaim received by these aforementioned films, along with the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, there’s one film of his that often gets overlooked. 2015’s Crimson Peak remains one of his most unique films.
It’s gothic Victorian love story that combines elements of horror and the supernatural. And it’s one that doesn’t get enough recognition. So in the spirit of that, let’s dive into why Crimson Peak is so underrated.
The late Victorian Era is most often portrayed as a very grim and bleak setting. And make no mistake, the quality of life and struggles of many people during that time weren’t all that far off.
So in films set in this time and place, we very often see it visualized with bleak color palettes, which isn’t Del Toro’s normal style. Instead, he kept the dark tone but blended it with his normal vibrantly colorful visual aesthetic, and it makes for a really interesting juxtaposition.
The ghosts we see are among the most colorful visuals in the whole movie, and it helps to separate the supernatural element as its own motif. The final result is something that looks and feels like the perfect marriage of old black and white gothic horror, with the brightly red-blooded Hammer films of the decades that followed.
Not Really a Ghost Story
As protagonist Edith states in the film’s opening lines, it’s not a ghost story, but rather a story with a ghost. We see Edith struggling with being taken seriously as a female writer in a very misogynistic age, we see her falling in love, and unwittingly becoming part of a deadly scheme.
At its core, Crimson Peak is coming of age story, complimented by romance and tragedy, and the supernatural element is really only there to enhance those parts of the story. So many horror films go in with the primary intention of just jumping out and scaring the audience that they often forget to tell a compelling story.
Del Toro put story first and allowed the ghosts to be a tool, rather than put the scares first and treat the story as an afterthought.
Subverting Expectations (Spoilers Ahead)
Advertised as a typical ghost story/haunted house film, Crimson Peak gives us something far different, but in a really interesting way. Every time Edith sees a ghost, she’s rightfully terrified, believing they mean her harm.
But by the end we discover that the spirits are the ones actually trying to help her, and the real one to fear is the human antagonist Lucille. In a movie-stealing performance Jessica Chastain plays a homicidal psychopath that’s just so much fun to watch.
She’s far scarier than any of the ghosts, and it’s easy to see why they all try to warn Edith, as Lucille is the reason they ended up dead. We’ve seen plenty of supernatural horror where a human is evil, but very few where all the ghosts are good. And it makes for a really interesting spin on a common trope.
Between its varied visual style, strong focus on story and characters, and subversion of several common clichés, Crimson Peak stands as one of the best films that Guillermo Del Toro has ever made. It remains my personal favorite, and it’s absurd that it doesn’t get the same recognition as Del Toro’s other classics!
Crimson Peak is currently streaming on Cinemax!