Crimson Peak: is del Toro's horror-romance too old-school?

Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston star in 'addictively macabre' Victorian romance


Guillermo del Toro's horror romance Crimson Peak, which opens in UK cinemas this week, is set to thrill fans of the gothic genre – but is it too old-school for contemporary horror fans?

The film, co-written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins, stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston. Set in a crumbling mansion in Cumbria, in the late 19th century, it tells the story of aspiring author Edith Cushing (Wasikowska), who falls in love with and marries Sir Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), but soon discovers her charming husband is not who he appears to be.

Many critics were delighted with the Mexican director's gorgeous but grisly take on the gothic genre romance.

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Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph calls Crimson Peak "a swooning, swirling Victorian romance spattered with the bright blood of classic Hammer horror". In short, he says, "think du Maurier, but gorier".

Wasikowska is "shimmeringly star-like" and Crimson Peak's "hypnotic, treasure-box beauty" makes it feel like a film out of time, adds Collin. Del Toro carries it off "without a single postmodern prod or smirk".

Indeed, Crimson Peak is an intricate, curlicued marvel of detail, "outrageously sumptuous, gruesomely violent", says Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. It's an addictively watchable macabre Hitchcockian fantasy, he adds, and "there's no doubting del Toro's sulphurous showmanship".

Scott Collura on IGN, notes that Crimson Peak is "a very deliberate return to an old-school type of Gothic horror romance", but one with a uniquely modern spin that switches up gender roles, uses CGI to render its ghastly ghosts and earns its R-rating in spades.

Viewers who are used to a faster, more modern type of horror/thrill experience might have trouble engaging with the film, says Collura. But for those who like del Toro's methods, Crimson Peak is "a beautifully horrifying experience".

Other critics had misgivings about the film.

In Variety, Peter Debruge calls Crimson Peak "the malformed love child between a richly atmospheric gothic romance and an overripe Italian giallo – delivered into this world by the mad doctor himself, horror maestro del Toro".

Aflame with colour and awash in symbolism, it's undeniably ravishing, says Debruge. Yet it's ultimately a disappointing haunted-house melodrama that may prove "too frou-frou for genre fans" and "too gory for the Harlequin crowd".

Yes, it's lurid and ghastly and immensely enjoyable and frequently spectacular, says Andrew O'Hehir in Salon. But it's also thinner and less substantial than it wants to be, "like a meal eaten in a dream".

Crimson Peak is full of references and imitations of a certain kind of 1930s or 1940s film, adds O'Hehir. If you're not the exact kind of culture-vulture weirdo for whom del Toro has made this movie, "I'm not sure that Crimson Peak will make any damn sense at all".

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