Guillermo del Torro is an innovative, consistently surprising filmmaker who never rests on his laurels. He has certain trademarks — whether they’re set in the past (Pan’s Labyrinth) or the future (Pacific Rim), his films are all dark, provocative adult fairy tales — but he strives for something fresh and different with each film. When he does have a new release, you gotta perk up.
Crimson Peak will be one of del Toro’s first R-rated films. The official synopsis is as follows:
The cast — including Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Mia Wasikowska — will be a decided strength. Not to mention, the “seductive stranger” is being played by Tom Hiddleston.
Del Toro has called Crimson Peak a Gothic romance, citing Rebecca and Jane Eyre among his influences and telling i09 that he’s “very aware of the tenets of the genre.” Hiddleston has further elaborated on the film’s dark sexual undertones, hinting at incest. So while the trailer and synopsis are mysterious and cagey, if we look at the staples of the genre, mixed with del Toro’s previous work, we can sketch what lies ahead.
This will be no Disney-style fairy tale.
Del Toro’s imagination is unparalleled. Part Brothers Grimm, part Neil Gaiman, part Tim Burton at his peak, yet entirely himself, del Toro’s imagery nightmarishly captivating. Whether they’re giant robots or skeletal humanoid creatures with eyes in their hands, his creations are indelible. Del Torro has said “I think monsters need to be powerfully beautiful.” So even at its creepiest, prepare to be transfixed.
The heroine will have gumption.
Traditional gothic narratives involve a naive young heroine who becomes corrupted by a decadent aristocratic man, entrapped in his house. When I spoke with Professor Ellen Ledoux, an expert in the gothic, she said, “The gothic really comes into being in the 1790’s when there was a huge backlash against aristocratic decadence. Gothic space is all about interiors, being entrapped, being lost in the darkness. The home is often thought of as a prison. Women aren’t afraid of what happens in public life, they’re afraid of private life.”
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, adapted from the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, the heroine marries a wealthy older man and goes to live with him in Manderley, his estate. She soon realizes all is not as it seems. The book is worth reading — especially if you find the Brontes’ language too stiff; it’s like Jane Eyre on crack — but the heroine is a timid mooncalf. In the novel’s hilariously unromantic proposal scene, she does not even understand that the hero is asking her to be his wife:
“Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.”
“Do you mean you want a secretary or something?”
“No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”
Del Toro’s heroines have a bit more gumption and kick more ass than the average Gothic heroine, whether they’re in a Radcliffe or a Bronte narrative.
Even though Crimson Peak will be markedly different from Pacific Rim, del Toro told the L.A. Times:
The gender in gothic romance, it’s normally a desperate heroine that has to be pure with a dark, brooding man that ends up being innocent of the charges he was accused of. And I wanted to have a more proactive, really strong central female character. And I wanted a guy who was not necessarily innocent of the things he is thought of having done.
There will be a haunted house. But it’s not a “haunted house movie.”
“We drew very much on the idea the house is really full of absence, full of empty corridors, human life. We create shapes that look human in corridors or painted in the walls, but only two people live in it. It’s haunted by the past, and the past is what’s destroying the characters. It’s not so much things that go bump in the night in the normal haunted house […] this isn’t a horror movie but a Gothic romance. It is sort of a hybrid of many impulses that were boiling in that era — sexual tension, romantic tension — and the fight between the rational and supernatural.
In the Gothic, the lush can be fearsome and the fearsome can be lush. Opulent surfaces belie dark, corrupted hearts. The grandiose and the decaying exist as two sides of the same coin.
Del Toro told Entertainment Weekly: “Normally when people address this period, they go for desaturated colors, steel gray, steel blue, or sepia. They are trying to evoke old photographs or silver tinting. I didn’t want that. I wanted the movie to feel lush.”
To circle back to Tom Hiddleston’s words about incest: Probably don’t go see this movie with your mom. Unless you’ve got a very special family.
This is not a family movie, in any traditional sense. Del Toro has called it his “kinkiest” film. Whether it’s in Penny Dreadful or the batshit crazy novel about a murderous sister-raping monk written in 1796 by a member of British parliament, if something sexual is considered “deviant” or “taboo” — you name it and it’s a staple of the Gothic. Addressing why the genre is so fixated on incest, Professor Ledoux said,
In a heterosexual relationship, a woman marries a man and often the son looks like father. That creates a tension, but we’re not able to talk about that in regular life. It’s too taboo, too creepy. In that fantasy space, where you know everything isn’t real, you can explore those themes and they’re less threatening.
The Gothic explores the darker parts of human nature and capacity for monstrosity, leaving no stone unturned, no matter how uncomfortable. So in the hands of a man who is an expert at bold, innovative monsters, get ready for this genre to have a hell of a renaissance.