NEW YORK, NY -- Imagine a house that breathes when the wind blows through its chimneys. A home that bleeds through its pipes when you fill the bathtub with red clay water.
The gothic manor Allerdale Hall in “Crimson Peak,”—the new horror/romance/mystery movie by award-winning Mexican director Guillermo del Toro—looks like a dark soulless cathedral. But inside this haunted house is a much deeper story about the good and evil things that live in our hearts and minds.
“Crimson Peak” takes place in the early 20th century, and tells the story of Edith Cushing (played by “Alice in Wonderland” actress Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring writer who moves from Buffalo, New York to Allerdale Hall in northwest England after falling in love. And her ability to see ghosts in the shadows of her new home leads Cushing to uncover a family secret.
Homes are often described like museums—the places where books, records, photos and other collections are carefully curated. But del Toro, who has made his mark as a master filmmaker with Spanish language classics like “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” uses horror to reveal hidden stories about war, politics and love. And in this sense, the “Crimson Peak” manor is like a giant mirror that reflects many important truths about society.
For Americans, del Toro’s movie captures familiar tensions between old and new money—wealthy British aristocrats vs. rich American industrialists. And “Crimson Peak” becomes a battlefield for their competing ideas.
"The fact is the way I see monsters or ghosts is very Latin," said acclaimed film director Guillermo del Toro. The opening scene is based on a visitation he said his mother experienced as a girl.
“My hands,” says successful industrialist Carter Cushing (played by “Deadwood” and “Supernatural” TV show actor Jim Beaver) in the movie—“[are] rough… a reflection of who I am.” His words echo the rags-to-riches story of the American dream. But Lady Lucille Sharpe (played by two-time Oscar nominee actress Jessica Chastain, who will also star with Matt Damon in the upcoming sci-fi action movie “The Martian”) contradicts this ideal, reminding viewers that class, money, and power cannot change easily because everything has its place.
Latinos, and Mexicans in particular, could also see in “Crimson Peak” a mirror of their culture and literature. The haunting presence of ghost-mothers can remind viewers of the classic Mexican novel “Pedro Páramo,” the story of a man who travels back to his dead mother’s town to look for his father. In both the movie and the book, characters find themselves in places that are crowded with ghosts.
For del Toro, however, the movie is not so much about telling Mexican tales in English. Instead he relies on his cultural roots and family stories to connect emotionally and intellectually with a wide variety of viewers.
“The fact is the way I see monsters or ghosts is very Latin,” he said in a Sept. 18 press conference about the movie in New York. “The opening scene is based on a visitation that my mother experienced [as a girl].” The director described how his mother had heard her grandmother’s silk dress move in the corridor, smelled her perfume, and then heard the bedsprings creek as her grandmother leaned on her back.
But whether you believe in ghosts or not, del Toro uses them to show viewers how the past is very much alive inside all of us. The director said at the press conference that ghosts keep us from moving to the future. And in “Crimson Peak”, Edith Cushing similarly describes how the haunting ghouls are like lingering emotions—love, loss, and revenge—memories that shape the character of where we live in.
As “Crimson Peak” switches your perspective from one mirror to another, you will get a tour inside del Toro’s head. The ghosts of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, horror fiction master Edgar Allen Poe and many others not only shape del Toro’s imagination, but could also help you uncover hidden stories in your own life.
“Crimson Peak” opens October 16.