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I hate scary movies, but I loved Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic masterpiece Crimson Peak.

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I hate scary movies. I’m one of those people who covers her eyes and tries to distract herself when previews filled with ghosts, serial killers, psychopaths or demons pop up on the screen, interrupt my TV binge-watching and make me jump. I’ve even had nightmares after seeing a preview.

I hate scary movies, but I loved Guillermo del Toro’s new gothic masterpiece Crimson Peak.

Edith Cushing, played perfectly by Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), is the slightly naive but intelligent young daughter of an industrialist in Buffalo, New York. She’s also an aspiring author who reveres Mary Shelley and just happens to be able to see ghosts. She meets Thomas Sharpe, an unusual, haunted young baronet somewhat stiffly played by Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive) while he is trying to convince her father to invest in his red clay mines.

Charlie Hunnam is Alan McMichael, Edith’s childhood friend who disapproves of her interest in Sharpe and, frankly, isn’t in the film long enough. It’s a different role for Hunnam after his years on Sons of Anarchy, and it would have been nice to see more of him in this setting.

After a small amount of public scandal, a murder and a second terrifying warning to “beware of Crimson Peak” from beyond the grave, Edith marries Sharpe and moves in with him and his restrained, mysterious sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain; Zero Dark Thirty) in their sinking mansion, Allerdale Hall, in Cumbria, England.

Edith learns Allerdale Hall is commonly called Crimson Peak only after she begins seeing strange things and asks if anyone has died there. The house slowly reveals its secrets and enables Edith to unravel the terrible history hiding within its walls along with the red clay.

The screenplay, written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins (Mimic, *batteries not included), is superb for a horror story. There were a few lines that verged too close to gimmick territory, but the film wasn’t so full of ghosts and jump-out-of-your skin moments that viewers became desensitized or bored halfway through. When there was gore, it wasn’t unrealistic and it didn’t take over the story.

Del Toro is a director known for visually intricate films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Pacific Rim, and Crimson Peak didn’t disappoint. The sets are excellent — del Toro made sure the non-haunted settings are pristine, colorful and full of snotty, uninteresting socialites and Allerdale Hall is dusty, decrepit and void of life. He even managed to include small, intricate details and clues for viewers paying close attention — the wallpaper at Allerdale is all moth-patterned, and the house dog is a Papillon (French for “butterfly”). The costumes are nuanced, parallel the characters’ personalities and help pull viewers into the time period.

You don’t go to a del Toro film expecting cheap special effects, and del Toro outdid himself in terms of inventiveness. His ghosts were creepy and unlike any I have seen onscreen; they are made of bones, swimming auras and more humanity than is comfortable in something so morose and are themselves visibly haunted by their deaths. The industrial-age inventions — working models of machinery, early electricity, projected photographs and voice recordings — manage to captivate a modern audience that spends its days bored while staring at a level of technology only dreamed of 100 years ago.

Despite my hatred of all things frightening and a few questionable decisions involving accents and the movement of the red clay, Crimson Peak is superb. If you want to see a quality horror film with an actually engaging story, go see this movie — even if you don’t really like scary movies or their previews.

(Design: Christopher Street)
  • Design: Christopher Street

Print headline: Crimson creep, Guillermo del Toro’s latest film exceeds expectations.

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