Guillermo del Toro doesn't merely direct movies. He paints them, dreams them, shapes them into private fantasies. His 2007 fantasy Pan's Labyrinth won the Mexican director a slew of awards. And his visionary style is again readily apparent in Crimson Peak, a ghost story in which superior camerawork, costumes and production design work together to put the audience in a trance. It's tough on actors not to get swallowed up in the scenery.
Luckily, del Toro has brought on a competitive bunch. Tom Hiddleston — yes, Loki himself — stars as British baronet Thomas Sharpe, a smooth operator who is heiress hunting in Buffalo, New York at the turn of the 20th century. He hits paydirt with the virginial Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska). Prep for chills as he whisks her off to Crimson Peak, his haunted family castle in England, ruled by Thomas' twisted sister, Lucille (a deliciously demented Jessica Chastain). This brother and sister are clearly not to be trusted, which sometimes leads the movie in material more appropriate for a campy spoof.
As for the crumbling mansion, it's a doozy, built on clay the color of blood and filled with portents culled from every scary movie del Toro and the rest of us have made the stuff of our nightmares. Too much? Of course. But watching del Toro explode this Gothic romance with beauty and terror is part of the fun.