Even the pristine white snow bleeds bright scarlet in “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 Guillermo del Toro, operating at his most stylistically unhinged.
Aflame with color and awash in symbolism, this undeniably ravishing yet ultimately disappointing haunted-house meller is all surface and no substance, sinking under the weight of its own self-importance into the sanguine muck below.
Named after the estate to which Mia Wasikowska’s newly orphaned and even newlier-wed heroine unwisely relocates with a plainly duplicitous brother-sister pair, “Crimson Peak” proves too frou-frou for genre fans, too gory for the Harlequin crowd and all-around too obvious for anyone pressed to guess what the siblings’ dark secret could possibly be, and will likely wind up an in-the-red setback to Universal’s most profitable year.
Though a skeptic toward romance, she believes in ghosts, having received a mortifying visit from her late mother (played by “Pan’s Labyrinth” creep Doug Jones) while still a young girl.
At the time, she doesn’t put much stock in the wraith’s warning — “Beware of Crimson Peak,” hisses the incongruously computer-generated apparition — and she remains far more open-minded toward the undead than any of her altar-bound peers would be.
That’ll come in handy more than an hour later, when she finally gets to Crimson Peak, a crumbling British mansion perched atop a heap of blood-red clay.
But first, she has to fall in love, which poses a unique challenge for del Toro.
As with the heroine that he and co-writer Matthew Robbins have created, his literary role model is more Mary Shelley than Jane Austen.
The helmer seems far more comfortable noodling around in the audience’s collective subconscious, where fears lurk and desire festers, than dealing with something as straightforward as pure romantic attraction, and though he’s attempted to create a triangle between Edith and two differently alluring men, hardy local doc Alan Mc Michael (Charlie Hunnam) and obsequious British baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), it seems pretty clear that she’d be better off sticking to her principles and avoiding such entanglements altogether.And yet, del Toro takes his time with Sharpe’s seduction, as if the director who can make people faint from fright were trying to prove to himself that he can get them to swoon as well. Neither love nor lust comes easily to del Toro, despite a charming enough ballroom setpiece in which Edith and Sharpe test whether they can waltz in circles without extinguishing a lit candle, while the baronet’s raven-haired sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, alarmingly miscast), smolders in sync from behind the piano.After butting heads with Warners over “Pacific Rim’s” PG-13 rating (which may explain the delays to that pic’s sequel), he dramatically switches gears on a twisted costume opera designed to let his bloodier tendencies loose.Bursting with references both literary and cinematic, this is del Toro’s “The Age of Innocence” by way of Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents,” as brazenly over-the-top as those films were subtle, manifesting a ghost story in which Wasikowska’s Edith Cushing has far more to fear from the living than from the dead, and the female of the species is deadlier than the male.An anomaly among the husband-hunting bachelorettes of turn-of-the-century Buffalo, N.Y., Edith would rather write fiction — specifically, tales of the supernatural — than attend fancy high-society balls.