Del Toro imagines Gothic romance

Tabitha Holowka and Tabitha Holowka

What Guillermo Del Toro was going for in his latest release, “Crimson Peak,” might be lost on most audiences.

I am a long time Del Toro fan. He wrote and directed “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy” and “Blade” franchises. He was also part of the screenplay crew for the Hobbit films. As his filmography suggests, he’s a bona fide nerd, and I love him for it.

His newest movie “Crimson Peak,” set to the tone of classic Gothic horror romances, was sure to again strike me right in the geek bone.

Edith Cushing, an American heiress at the turn of the twentieth century and would-be writer, was warned as a pre-adolescent by the ghost of her mother to “Beware of Crimson Peak!” She receives this warning once again after meeting the baronet Edward Sharpe of Allerdale Mansion, England, but is unsure what it means. Meanwhile, the two quickly fall in love and marry, and she follows the baronet and his reservedly cold sister to their decrepit mansion in England.

Once there, she follows the Gothic narrative of intrigue as dark secrets begin to, quite literally, seep up into view.

The scenery is littered with extravagance, indicative of the time period being evoked (turn of the 20th century); the costumes were beautiful and detailed, as well as the houses and offices.

The Allerdale Hall mansion is exceptionally magnificent, if logically flawed. Red clay seeping up at the top of a hill? Unlikely, but gives the bloody, violent plot a forced physical and ominous focus. The mansion in the middle of a huge empty field somehow has leaves falling through the center of the decaying tower? Impossible, but the decadence is intoxicating. If these things bother you, then fantasy is simply not your genre; I, however, am all for the reality-defying expressionism of Del Toro.

The cast was stacked with brilliant and beautiful actors and actresses. Jessica Chastain (Lucille Sharpe) is riveting and intense with a steely, impenetrable gaze locked on the entire film. Mia Wasikowska is a believably bookish, yet naïve American heiress, easily swept up in the typical Gothic, mysterious charm of Tom Hiddleston’s Edward Sharpe. Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael) is an unsung hero in the film, but there is not a huge focus on him, as his character is more of a device to move along the plot.

The nerdy bits have to do with Del Toro being a fan of classical Gothic novels from the late 1800s, and pulls a little bit from weird tales of those times as well. He wanted to recreate this setting and ambience in the modern film era with a modern, overt focus on the sex-driven motifs of the plot, which were often left to be discerned from reading between the lines in olden times.

My complaints are only two.

First, that the film could have been even more overt in the sexuality of the plot (however, this may come from my desire to have a little Tom Hiddleston fan service, if you know what I mean).

Second, while I understand Del Toro was building tension and getting lost in his fantasy world (as he is wont to do, which I, again, always love), there are times where the plot definitely could have moved a little more quickly, without sacrificing these things and possibly keeping less attentive audiences better attuned to what was happening.

Overall, I found this recreation of a classic literary genre great fun, and his mix in with horror was indeed creepy. He remains straightforward in his intentions, creating a strong willed lead female, and his metaphors about the past. If you enjoy Del Toro nerding out about his favorite things, this shouldn’t disappoint.