There will be blood on Crimson Peak.
Universal Studios, the movie company releasing “Crimson Peak,” describes the chiller as a Gothic romance. It’s that and more. A Gothic romantic-horror-detective-thriller.
The unmistakable touch of Guillermo del Toro — the Mexican writer-director-producer behind “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy” and the Jessica Chastain-starring horror hit “Mama” — can’t be missed in “Crimson Peak.”
Along with sequences that are among the most chilling in any del Toro movie, “Crimson Peak” is an oddly uneven movie mutt that doesn’t always sustain itself.
Some sections of the film, especially the early, American-set part of the story, play as if they’re in a movie other than “Crimson Peak.” Those sunny sequences happen before Mia Wasikowska’s young American heiress travels to England with her new husband.
The high-profile Chastain, star of the del Toro-produced “Mama,” works with him again in “Crimson Peak,” but she isn’t the leading lady this time. That title belongs to Wasikowska. The young Australian actress stars as Edith Cushing, daughter of a rich American industrialist.
Edith meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, a British baronet, when he asks her father to finance a clay-mining operation in England. Edith already has a worthy suitor in American Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam). Sharpe’s English-accented words of love, shaped like fine prose and gliding off his tongue, are persuasive.
British actor Tom Hiddleston is well-placed as Sharpe, a charming man with a dark past. Although he shows Edith a warm exterior, he’s worse than a scoundrel. Nonetheless, his courting performance wins Edith’s heart. Sharpe easily displaces the comparatively ordinary Dr. McMichael.
As the script drives Edith through her scary, investigative paces, Wasikowska, seen in most of the scenes, earns her leading-lady billing. At 26, the actress has already built an impressive filmography, including the title character in the 2011 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.”
Like Jane, Edith falls in love with the master of a great English house. Allerdale Hall, the mansion on Crimson Peak, is a Gothic monstrosity in alarming decline. Snow falls through the entrance hall roof. Clay the color of blood seeps through the floorboards. And it’s a house of horrors.
Edith is better prepared for Allerdale Hall’s challenges than others. Having seen her first ghost at 10, she’s attuned to spirits and receptive to their messages.
As well played as Edith and Sharpe are by Wasikowska and Hiddleston, Chastain’s turn as Edith’s piano-playing sister-in-law, Lady Lucille Sharpe, is a rare misstep for the Oscar-nominated actress. Eye-catching though Chastain’s dark-hued Victorian costumes are, the actress never locks the Lucille character in place.
The movie’s costumes and Allerdale Hall’s foreboding exterior and skeletal interior help set a tone of dread. Del Toro and his special-effects team also release chilling ghostly visitations. But the rather ordinary violence in the film’s bloody, blade-slashing, head-bashing fights lacks imagination.
Genuine frights elsewhere in the film, though, the Gothic world of horror del Toro creates plus Wasikowska’s and Hiddleston’s performances make “Crimson Peak” a worthy destination for a horror and fantasy fans.